A Jewish philanthropist from Philadelphia has given Duquesne University School of Law $7.5 million — the largest individual gift in the law school’s history — to establish a first-of-its-kind center for judicial education.
The gift from Thomas R. Kline, a 1978 Duquesne Law alumnus and nationally prominent personal injury attorney, will allow his alma mater to establish the Thomas R. Kline Center for Judicial Education. The center, in conjunction with the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts and under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, will coordinate with deans and law scholars at Pennsylvania’s nine law schools to establish an innovative, high-level curriculum of courses and seminars for the commonwealth’s more than 600 trial and appellate judges.
While attorneys in Pennsylvania have had a longtime requirement of continuing legal education, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court just recently imposed a similar requirement upon its judges.
“When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court established mandatory legal education this year, I viewed the Court’s establishment of this requirement as an opportunity for me to contribute not only to the legal profession, but also to my alma mater, Duquesne University Law School, in payment of a debt of gratitude,” said Kline in an email.
“The Law School at Duquesne has a long-standing tradition of public service and commitment to the judiciary. I am proud that two justices of the Supreme Court, Max Baer and Christine Donahue, are Duquesne law alumni and a third, David Wecht, has long-standing ties to Duquesne Law School in a teaching capacity,” Kline continued.
The establishment of the Kline Center “is the intersection of my pride in my alma mater, my commitment to legal education, my respect for the judicial process and the need for the highest standards for lawyers and judges,” he said.
In 2014 Kline donated $50 million to Drexel University, which renamed its law school in his honor.
Kline is a founding partner with Shanin Specter of the law firm of Kline & Specter. The firm has a national reputation for its success in handling catastrophic injury cases. His work in the Penn State/Sandusky litigation and the Piazza fraternity hazing case have gained national attention. He has achieved hundreds of seven- and eight-figure jury verdicts and settlements.
Kline grew up in the Pennsylvania anthracite coal region and graduated from Albright College. He began his professional career as a middle school social studies teacher and earned a master’s degree in American history from Lehigh University. He then attended Duquesne University School of Law, where he graduated with the school’s Distinguished Student Award. He went on to work as law clerk to Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Thomas W. Pomeroy before joining the private sector, working first at the Beasley Firm in Philadelphia. He and Specter opened their own firm in 1995.
In 2008, Kline received Duquesne Law School’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
Ken Gormley, president of Duquesne University and former dean of its law school, had been in conversations with Kline for about five years about the possibility of doing something for his alma mater.
“As part of that discussion, I raised the idea of a judicial education center at Duquesne, and he was intrigued by that from the start,” Gormley said. “He cares deeply about educating our judges. He cares deeply about doing things for the profession and giving back at the highest level. And that one struck a real chord.”
Over time, the concept developed to establish “not just a judicial education center, but something bigger than anyone else had really ever pulled off, which was creating a center that worked directly with the courts and with all of the other law schools in the state,” Gormley said. “That has never been done before. There are a couple of universities that have created relationships with the courts, but none of them have created a statewide network by bringing in the expertise of all the other law schools in the state. So, this is truly groundbreaking.”
While Pennsylvania judges have been receiving continuing education for years, that education has not been required until now, “and there hasn’t been a strategic plan in terms of what courses are most significant, and which ones will count for credit, and so on,” according to Gormley.
“That has become more of a national trend,” he said. “In the last election, Justice David Wecht, who is a good friend and has taught a course at Duquesne Law School for years, really made a point of emphasizing the need for continuing judicial education during his campaign. So, it all kind of came to the forefront in the last couple years.”
All Pennsylvania judges will be required to earn a total of 12 credits of continuing legal education each year, including three credits in judicial ethics.
Duquesne made a proposal to the Court and worked with AOPC to construct a memorandum of understanding as to a formal role for the new Kline Center, which will collaborate with AOPC to deliver four “key credits to judges each year” beginning in January 2018.
There will be a committee comprised of the deans of the nine law schools in Pennsylvania to provide input into the judicial curriculum, according to Gormley.
Courses may include “‘classic hits’ you may want to take each year, like a course on leading cases decided by the Pennsylvania appellate courts in the past year or leading cases handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the past year,” he said. “Those types of courses never become out of date, because each year it’s good to get an update to remain current.”
Gormley anticipates utilizing instructors outside the legal field to teach some of the courses, for example, science experts who may lead courses about Marcellus Shale and environmental issues, or psychologists who may instruct on juvenile or veterans’ issues.
“It is a rare thing that a law school gets to play such a central role in the delivery of judicial education and educating public servants more broadly,” Gormley said. “And that has always been something we’ve been very proud of and has been part of our legacy at Duquesne.”
Gormley has been in touch with the deans of the other law schools across the commonwealth, who were “extraordinarily enthusiastic about this partnership. It is not common for law schools to work together on anything. So, this is a chance to do something that all of us care about that is a collective sort of pro bono effort that benefits our profession and the system of justice we all care about and that we are all preparing our graduates to serve as well.
“This is the one project that means the most to me to see it come to fruition properly because it can make such a difference.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at