In Memoriam: Professor Thomas L. Shaffer '61 J.D.

Author: Nell Jessup Newton

shaffer feature 709

It is with deep sorrow that Notre Dame Law School announces the passing of Professor Emeritus and former Dean Thomas L. Shaffer, who died on February 26, 2019, after a long illness.

Visitation will take place at 10 a.m. on Friday, March 1, at Little Flower Catholic Church, 54191 Ironwood Road in South Bend. The funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. and interment will follow at Cedar Grove Cemetery on campus. After the interment, there will be a reception at the Morris Inn. All are welcome. In lieu of flowers, Tom’s wife, Nancy, and the family have asked that contributions be made to the Thomas L. Shaffer Public Interest Fellowship at Notre Dame Law School.

In light of the scores of emails the Law School and Tom’s family have already received, we will post a fuller remembrance of this remarkable man in the near future. In addition, the Law School is planning a memorial celebration of Tom’s work and life to be held later in the spring semester, and we will announce that date as soon as possible.

Tom changed the lives of many of his students and colleagues as a teacher and scholar. He was a towering figure, especially among the community of scholars exploring interdisciplinary issues at the intersection of law and religion, law and community, law and humanities, and law and literature. In such works as On Being a Christian and a Lawyer and Faith and the Professions, Tom wrote about the importance of integrating faith into the teaching and practice of law. As a teacher, he taught legal ethics, estate planning, and law and religion, but at the heart of his teaching was to call his students to reflect on what it means to be a lawyer who is also a person of faith. "I do not get my morals from the law," he said during a 2003 roundtable discussion published by the Pepperdine Law Review, "and I do not want my students to."

Tom joined the Notre Dame Law School faculty in 1963. He served as associate dean from 1969 to 1971, visited at UCLA School of Law from 1970 to 1971, and served as dean at Notre Dame from 1971 to 1975. He later visited at the University of Virginia School of Law and joined the faculty of Washington and Lee University School of Law before rejoining the Notre Dame faculty in 1988 as the first Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law.

Tom earned his B.A. from the University of Albuquerque in 1958 and his J.D. cum laude from Notre Dame Law School in 1961. As a law student, he served as editor-in-chief of the law review and graduated first in his class. He practiced law in Indianapolis with Barnes, Hickam, Pantzer & Boyd from 1961 to 1963.

Reflecting on his career in 1997, he identified 1991 as the year of his "conversion" from being primarily a classroom teacher to working with students in the Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic, now known as the Notre Dame Clinical Law Center. As a supervising attorney, he taught clinical ethics, guided the legal practice of law students who served low-income residents in South Bend, and inspired generations of future Notre Dame lawyers.

According to Professor Bob Jones, the Law School's Associate Dean for Experiential Programs, "Tom was the spiritual center of the Legal Aid Clinic and regarded as a beloved mentor by every clinician who served there."

Professor Rick Garnett, the founding director of the Law School’s Program on Church, State, and Society, said that "Tom Shaffer's work and thought were, for me, hugely inspiring and influential, ever since I encountered them in law school. He showed me, and many others, that it was possible — and worth doing — to incorporate one's faith with one's law practice and scholarship." Read Rick's full remembrance of Tom on PrawfsBlog and a tribute he wrote for Tom in 2002 in the Notre Dame Law Review.

In 2013, the Law School renamed the Notre Dame Law Fellowship the Thomas L. Shaffer Public Interest Fellowship in recognition of Tom's extraordinary dedication to Notre Dame Law students and the public good. The Shaffer Fellowship is a highly competitive, two-year fellowship supporting students who provide direct services to the poor in a nonprofit or government agency.

Tom's decades of stellar work will permeate virtually every dimension of the Law School and much of the legal community for generations to come.

Nell Jessup Newton is the Joseph A. Matson Dean and Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School.