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Law school dean emeritus dies after long illness

| Friday, March 1, 2019

Thomas L. Shaffer, former dean of the Notre Dame Law School and the Robert and Marion Short professor emeritus of law, died Tuesday from a long-term illness, the University announced in a news release Thursday.

Shaffer was a teacher and scholar who took interest in studying the intersection between law and subjects such as religion, communities, humanities and literature, the release said.

“Tom Shaffer’s work and thought were, for me, hugely inspiring and influential, ever since I encountered them in law school,” law professor Rick Garnett said. “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.”

Shaffer graduated from the University of Albuquerque in 1958 with a Bachelor of Arts. In 1961, he graduated cum laude and first in his class from the Notre Dame Law School, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Notre Dame Law Review.

After two years practicing law with Barnes, Hickam, Pantzer & Boyd in Indianapolis, Shaffer joined the Notre Dame Law School faculty in 1963, where he went on to serve as dean from 1971 to 1975. After visiting the University of Virginia School of Law and working at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, he returned to teach law at Notre Dame in 1988. As a professor, Shaffer taught classes in legal ethics, estate planning and religion and law.

He also authored such works as “On Being Christian and a Lawyer” and “Faith and the Professions,” where he wrote about teaching faith in practicing law.

“I do not get my morals from the law, and I do not want my students to,” Shaffer said during a 2003 round table discussion published by the Pepperdine Law Review.

In 1991, Shaffer began working with students in the Notre Dame Clinical Law Center, where law students can receive academic credit for providing free legal services to individuals and organizations. Shaffer taught clinical ethics to students serving low-income residents in South Bend.

“Tom was the spiritual center of the Legal Aid Clinic and regarded as a beloved mentor by every clinician who served there,” Bob Jones, clinical professor of law, said in the release.

A visitation will take place at 10 a.m. Friday at Little Flower Catholic Church in South Bend. The funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. and interment will follow at Cedar Grove Cemetery on campus. A reception following the internment will be held at the Morris Inn.  

At the request of the Shaffer family, contributions may be made to the Thomas L. Shaffer Public Interest Fellowship at the Law School, a two-year fellowship supporting students who provide legal services to the poor in a government or nonprofit setting.

The Law School is planning a memorial service in honor of Shaffer’s life and work taking place later this spring.

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