The Three Major Legal Fraternities

Phi Alpha Delta

Phi Alpha Delta is considered the largest legal fraternity in the world, with more than 260,000 members initiated since its official inception in 1902. According to the fraternity's website, its history is steeped in controversy. In 1897, the Supreme Court of Illinois "adopted a rule for admission to the Illinois Bar which seriously affected many of the students then preparing for admission."

In order to maintain their rights, a group of students organized what was known as the Law Student League, which secured the passage of an act by the state legislature exempting students who were then studying for the bar from certain requirements of the rule. The Illinois Supreme Court refused to acknowledge all of the exemptions, so the league took a test case to the Supreme Court of Illinois and was partially successful.

In 1898, members of the league formed the Lambda Epsilon fraternity after realizing that they could accomplish more as a unified group. In an effort to adhere to their founding principles, the founders of Lambda Epsilon put in place several restrictions that made expanding the fraternity to other schools extremely difficult.

It soon became very apparent, however, that there was a growing demand for this type of organization on more legal campuses. On July 16, 1902, the delegates of a convention held at the Colonial Tavern in South Haven, MI, decided to dissolve Lambda Epsilon. The next day, they signed the South Haven Articles, which would serve as the foundation for Phi Alpha Delta. In November of that same year, a meeting was held in Chicago, during which the articles, a constitution, rituals, and rules were formally adopted together under the name of "Phi Alpha Delta."

Within a month, five chapters had been installed, and by 1910, more than 23 chapters were in existence. In 1970, the fraternity became the first to admit women. As of 2006, the fraternity had more than 260,000 initiated members in chapters across the United States as well as Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. There are also 97 alumni chapters and 270 pre-law chapters in existence.

According to the fraternity's website, "the purpose of this Fraternity shall be to form a strong bond uniting students and teachers of the law with members of the Bench and Bar in a fraternal fellowship designed to advance the ideals of liberty and equal justice under law; to stimulate excellence in scholarship; to inspire the virtues of compassion and courage; to foster integrity and professional competence; to promote the welfare of its members; and to encourage their moral, intellectual, and cultural advancement so that each member may enjoy a lifetime of honorable professional and public service."

It is estimated that at least 20% of all attorneys are members of Phi Alpha Delta. Famous members of the fraternity include Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Warren G. Harding, and Johnnie Cochran.

Phi Delta Phi

Founded in 1869 at the University of Michigan, Phi Delta Phi is the oldest of the three international law fraternities. Its goal is "to promote a higher standard of professional ethics." By the fraternity's 100th anniversary, members had appeared on the cover of TIME magazine more than 100 times. Each year, approximately 2,500 students commit themselves to Phi Delta Phi at various chapters (known as Inns) across the country.

In 2005, Tim Hutzul, the fraternity's international historian, delivered a speech at the General Convention of Phi Delta Phi in New Orleans. According to Hutzul, the first woman was allowed into the fraternity in the 1890s, but her membership was retracted due to pressure.

Since 1869, Phi Delta Phi has chartered 197 Inns at various law schools across the country, including Harvard, Yale, the University of Illinois, and other Top 100 law schools, as well as law schools in Guatemala, Canada, Mexico, and Europe.

According to the Phi Delta Phi website, the Inns have initiated more than 200,000 men and women since the fraternity's inception and initiate about 3,000 new students each year, making Phi Delta Phi the largest "legal fraternity whose membership is restricted to students and practitioners of the law." Unlike Phi Alpha Delta, Phi Delta Phi does not initiate pre-law students or undergraduates, which makes it a "true professional association of lawyers and law students."

Every other year since Phi Delta Phi's First General Convention in 1882, members of the fraternity have gathered together for their Biennial Convention. This year, the 58th such convention will be held in Fort Lauderdale, beginning August 15 and ending August 18.

Phi Delta Phi has accumulated an impressive list of members since 1869 including Benjamin Cardozo, Gerald Ford, Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O'Connor, William Rehnquist, and William Howard Taft.

Delta Theta Phi

According to the Delta Theta Phi website, the history of the fraternity began with four other law fraternities: Delta Phi Delta, Alpha Kappa Phi, Theta Lambda Phi, and Sigma Nu Phi. In 1913, members of the four fraternities met at a joint convention and consolidated into Delta Theta Phi. After the fraternities combined on various campuses across the country, there were 32 senates in the Delta Theta Phi system.

Like most fraternities founded during the time preceding the civil rights movement, Delta Theta Phi was founded by white, Christian males. At a convention held in 1959, some of the members suggested that the fraternity remove its clause that limited initiation to white Christians. At the time, they were unsuccessful, but two years later, when the same members were alumni, the fight was renewed and they were successful. All restrictions based on race, religion, and creed were lifted.

By 1969, the fraternity was international, with two new chapters in Puerto Rico. Soon, there were chapters in Australia, Canada, and Iceland. At another convention in 1971, those in attendance voted to remove all restrictions based on gender from their charter. According to the website, the first female was elected and initiated immediately after the decision.

While it may not be the oldest or biggest law fraternity, Delta Theta Phi's claim to fame is that it is the only law fraternity with an "authoritatively recognized law review," the Adelphia Law Journal.

The journal was founded in 1981 by the Sigma Nu Phi fraternity, "which recognized the need to place the organization on a larger, national scale with more focus and attention given to the legal profession. The Adelphia strives to attain these goals through the publication of articles, notes, and commentaries reflecting both legal analysis and literary expression; and, as a reflection of its accomplishments, [it] was in 1985 accepted by the Index to Legal Periodicals as well as other similar indexes, reference guides, and authorities."

Each year, the journal's National Editorial Board meets to choose a senate from those that have applied. The chosen senate then edits and publishes that year's journal, committing itself to the editorial process, which includes reviewing, proofreading, and cite-checking all articles.

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