By  Tom Jarvis

See full gallery at the end of the article.

Hundreds of alumni, students, and current and former faculty and staff of the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law (UNH Law) gathered throughout the weekend of September 29 through October 1 to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary. The weekend was filled with joyful mixers and memories, distinguished speakers, and even a golf tournament.

“[The law school] was founded on a vision,” Dean Megan Carpenter says. “The 50th anniversary weekend was a tribute to this vision, and to the students, staff, and faculty through the years who built the school from a small unaccredited dream in a bull barn to a national and international powerhouse. It was a joy to celebrate the school and, especially, to celebrate the people who have been instrumental in its development.”

Professor Emerita and Alumni Liaison Ellen Musinsky, one of the primary planners for the celebration, says they decided against a traditional convocation.

“We wanted the graduates to come back and really be able to experience the feelings they had when they were in school and recall why they love the institution,” she says. “But we also wanted some level of seriousness, as well, with the judges speaking at the gala. I think we struck a great balance.”

More than 200 people attended opening night on Friday at the Capitol Center for the Arts’ Bank of New Hampshire Stage in Concord. The sold-out event began with a cocktail party, followed by speakers Musinsky, Dean Carpenter, and UNH President James Dean, and concluded with a screening of a celebratory film chronicling the history of the law school.

The 22-minute film opened with a shot of the Loch Ness monster – more on that later – then delved into the formation of the school and moved through its rich 50-year history, ending with a segment on its goals for the future.

The film also highlighted the school’s many accomplishments and accolades, including the establishment of its acclaimed programs like the world-renowned Intellectual Property (IP) Program, the first-in-the-nation Daniel Webster Scholars Program, and the Hybrid Juris Doctor Program (the first of its kind approved by the American Bar Association). It is also the first school in the country to offer a graduate degree in IP designed for people not holding a law degree.

“Our law school was founded with two principles in mind,” Dean Carpenter said in the film. “To be the best intellectual property-focused law school in the country, and to train students to practice law – to be lawyers, not just to think like lawyers.”

The law school, originally called Franklin Pierce Law Center (FPLC), was founded in 1973 by renowned lawyer, inventor, musician, composer, and Loch Ness Monster hunter Robert H. Rines. A whole book could be written about Rines, but some highlights, in addition to founding the law school, are that he also founded the Academy of Applied Science, held hundreds of US patents for his inventions (including high-resolution radar and sonar), designed early warning systems for the US Army while he was a Signal Corps officer, wrote music for Broadway shows, influenced the Congressional rewriting of patent laws in 2000, and played a violin duet with Albert Einstein at the age of 11.

One of the more eccentric tidbits about Rines was his nearly 40-year pursuit of Scotland’s cryptozoological Loch Ness Monster, nicknamed “Nessie” by many. In 1972, while visiting Loch Ness, Rines reported seeing “a large, darkish hump, covered with mottled skin, like the back of an elephant.” He subsequently embarked on numerous expeditions to find scientific evidence but was ultimately unsuccessful.

Rines partnered with Attorney and Professor Robert Viles to purchase FPLC’s first location on Mountain Road in Concord – a former bull-breeding farm. The school’s early faculty and staff consisted of less than a dozen people.

In 1976, FPLC moved to its current location at 2 White Street in Concord. That same year produced the first graduating class. Among those 86 graduates – known as the 1976 Trailblazers – were Adjunct Professor Douglas Wood and Attorney James Conway.

“The first class was basically a bunch of misfits,” Wood said in the film. “We came to an empty building, so we had no cafeteria, we had no books – we had nothing. But we were all characters.”

Conway noted in the film there were no upper classmen, so they didn’t know what to expect.

“We didn’t know what [law school] was supposed to be like,” he said. “There was nobody to tell us what the rules were. So, we kind of made a lot of them up ourselves.”

In 2010, FPLC merged with the University of New Hampshire to become UNH School of Law and then changed its name again in 2019 to include Franklin Pierce.

The second day of the 50th anniversary celebration kicked off in the morning with a mixer and an international reception. This took place at the school, where alumni could rekindle old memories in a tour of the campus and the newly remodeled law library while mingling with the next generation of graduates.

“I walked into the law school and saw the portrait of Bob Rines and I started to cry,” says Nancy Richards-Stower, a 1976 Trailblazer. “He changed the lives of so many people and the law in this state.”

In the afternoon, the commemoration gave way to a golf tournament at Concord Country Club, hosted by Ellen Musinsky and Judge Charles Temple. The Daniel Webster Scholars also held their annual gathering at the same location.

“It was a great opportunity for the graduates to get together and play golf and have fun,” Musinsky says.

On Saturday night, nearly 300 people attended the school’s 50th Anniversary Gala at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord. The featured speakers at this penultimate occasion were New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald, Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Raymond Chen, former dean and retired Chief Justice John Broderick, and retired Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Arthur Gajarsa (who was the school’s first distinguished jurist in residence).

During the dinner that followed, each table included a complementary bottle of a custom-blend cabernet sauvignon, affectionately named “Nessie,” which was made exclusively for the law school’s 50th anniversary by Broken Rock Vineyard in Napa Valley.

Once dessert was finished, Musinsky and Dean Carpenter introduced a video depicting a montage of vintage performances from the law school’s now-defunct talent shows, called Jives.

“The Jives were started in the 70s,” Musinsky recalls. “Professor Hugh Gibbons basically organized them. They were big parties where students and faculty all came together and pretended to be talented – though there were actually some talented people – and let their hair down. It was great for the community, and it gave us all a sense that we were in it together. It also allowed the students to see the faculty as human beings. It was a lot of fun.”

After the Jive montage, gala attendees were treated to a brand-new Jive, Law School of Dreams: Since We Built It, They Will Come, a lighthearted and comical play starring current and former faculty members acting either as themselves or faculty members and staff who have passed away.

The new Jive, featuring Douglas Wood as the Loch Ness Monster, yielded much laughter from the audience. After the amusing performance, the night was capped off with a DJ and dancing.

The final event of the celebration, a remembrance gathering, took place at the school on Sunday morning. Former Dean John Hutson led the attendees through a tribute to those who have passed away, which included a heartfelt video.

“It was really moving,” Musinsky says. “I was surprised. I’m not a highly emotional person, but I’ve been at this school forever, and it brought back so many feelings for me about colleagues and graduates who were good friends of mine who are no longer with us. And we had a harpist. It was pretty nice.”

Dean Carpenter says that if she had to summarize the weekend in one word, it would be “joyous.”

“In the last six years,” she says. “We have welcomed the largest class in the history of the law school, we have increased the diversity of our student body more than five-fold, created the first-in-the-nation specialized law degree for working professionals, increased our outreach in India, China, Taiwan, and across Latin America, and we have made the law school financially sustainable – more than tripling our revenue. There is a lot to celebrate.”

Carpenter continues: “Whatever the future holds, we will hold tight to the spirit with which we were created – we will be pioneering, principled, and we will chart the path as a national leader in practice-ready legal education.”