DALLAS (SMU) — SMU’s Dedman School of Law has became one of the few law schools in the country with an endowed deanship, through a $4 million gift from the Noel family of Houston in honor of the late Judge James L. Noel Jr.

The Noel gift is matched with $1 million from the Dedman family of Dallas, for a total endowment of $5 million. John B. Attanasio, dean of the Dedman School since 1998, will hold the Judge James Noel Deanship and Professorship of Law.

“Judge Noel was a distinguished alumnus of the SMU School of Law, and we are honored to have the school’s deanship bear his name,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “We are deeply grateful to the Noel family, many of whom are SMU graduates, for their investment in the future of SMU’s law school.”

“This is a wonderful way to honor Judge Noel and a truly historic moment for Dedman School of Law,” said Dean Attanasio. “Only a small number of law schools in the country have endowed deanships, and even fewer are endowed at the $5 million level.”

Noel earned an LL.B. from SMU’s School of Law in 1938, after receiving two undergraduate degrees from SMU — a B.S. in civil engineering in 1931 and a B.S. in commerce in 1932. He worked as an assistant district attorney in Dallas County while in law school and upon graduating became an assistant Texas attorney general. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he joined the U.S. Navy and served as a legal officer in Hawaii during World War II. Following his military service, he returned to the Texas attorney general’s office as the lead oil and gas lawyer before joining the Houston law firm of Butler, Binion, Rice & Cook. He later established his own law firm. In 1961 President John F. Kennedy appointed Noel to the federal district court bench in Houston, where he served until 1976.

Judge Noel’s five children and their spouses, all of whom live in Houston, joined together in making the gift to SMU. Four of the five children have SMU degrees, including three from Dedman School of Law: Carol Noel King, Robert C. Noel and William D. Noel, who serves on the school’s Executive Board. Another son, Edmund O. Noel, received his undergraduate degree from SMU. James L. Noel III attended law school in Houston, but his daughter, Mindy McGehee Riseden, graduated from Dedman School of Law.

“This is a wonderful example of one of SMU’s leading families, the Noels, contributing to the success of future SMU students through this generous endowment of the law deanship,” said Paul W. Ludden, SMU provost and vice president for academic affairs. “The Judge James Noel Deanship will ensure SMU’s ability to retain the very best talent in the leadership position of the Dedman School of Law.”

Under Dean Attanasio’s leadership, Dedman School of Law has made significant advancements in the past 10 years. Dedman Law graduates had the state’s highest passing rates for first-time test takers on the July 2008 bar exam. The Texas Lawyer ranked Dedman Law first in a 2008 survey on student satisfaction at Texas law schools. A major milestone was the school’s naming in 2001 in honor of law school alumnus and benefactor Robert H. Dedman Sr. and his family. Reinstatement of the Evening Law Program in 2004, after an absence of 36 years, has enabled numerous area residents who cannot attend daytime classes to pursue law degrees from SMU. The school has extended its longstanding tradition of public service with the addition of two new legal clinics, making a total of six clinics serving diverse community needs.

Founded in 1925, Dedman School of Law is among the nation’s 25 most competitive law schools for admission. Dedman Law offers the Juris Doctor, Master’s and Doctor of Law degrees.

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