NDLS scholar Thomas Shaffer leaves ‘wonderful legacy’

Notre Dame Law School professor emeritus Thomas Shaffer, who served as dean from 1971 to 1975 and was one of the country’s most prolific legal authors, died Feb. 26 after a long illness. He was 84.

Shaffer was noted for his scholarship exploring the intersection of the law and religion, law and community, law and humanities and law and literature. Two of his works – “On Being a Christian and a Lawyer” and “Faith and the Professions” – focused on integrating faith into the teaching and practice of law.

“Tom wrote about he importance of integrating faith into the teaching and practice of law,” Notre Dame Law School dean Nell Jessup Newton wrote in memoriam “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.”

Notre Dame Law School professor Rick Garnett wrote he was inspired as a second-year law student by Shaffer’s article, “The Legal Ethics of Radical Individualism.” Garnett wrote on the PrawfsBlawg that Shaffer “was a creative, provocative, and incredibly prolific scholar. His writing on legal ethics, narrative, literature, poverty, religion, clinical teaching, and other things are a wonderful legacy.”

After graduating from Notre Dame Law School in 1961, Shaffer joined the Indianapolis law firm of Barnes, Hickam, Pantzer & Boyd, which eventually became Barnes & Thornburg LLP, before returning to his alma mater to teach in 1963. He was a visiting professor at several law schools, including the University of California at Los Angeles, University of Virginia and the University of Maine.

Then in 1980, Shaffer left Notre Dame to join the faculty at Washington & Lee University Law School. He rejoined the Notre Dame law faculty in 1988 and, in 1991, underwent what he called his “conversion” from being a classroom teacher to a clinician, working with students in what is now known as the Notre Dame Clinical Law Center. As a supervising attorney at the clinic, Shaffer taught clinic ethics and guided the legal practice of law students who served low-income residents in South Bend.

Notre Dame Law School associate dean for experiential programs Bob Jones called Shaffer the “spiritual center of the Legal Aid Clinic.”

In 2013, the law school recognized Shaffer’s dedication to the law students and the public good by renaming the Notre Dame Law Fellowship as the Thomas L. Shaffer Public Interest Fellowship.

A funeral mass and interment at Cedar Grove Cemetery on the Notre Dame campus was held March 1. The law school is planning a memorial celebration for a date to be announced.

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