The initiative for a law school at the University of Limerick started with the appointment of Professor T Henry Ellis, as a lecturer in Law to the European Studies department in 1974, who developed a law option as part of the revised BA degree in European Studies.
As the number of specialist faculty grew, a re-organisation of the European Studies department in 1987 created two constituent departments: European Integration & Administration (EIA) and Languages & Social Studies within the College of Humanities; Law was located within the EIA department.
In 1992, the EIA department was further divided by establishing a third department of Law & Insurance within the College under the leadership of Prof. Ellis. In 1993, the Insurance faculty was transferred to the College of Business thereby creating a separate department of Law under Prof. Ellis. He introduced the first interdisciplinary professional degree, the BA in Law & Accounting, providing exemptions from both the legal and accountancy professions.
Prof. Ellis was succeeded as Head of Department by Prof. Raymond J Friel from 1996 until he stepped down in 2002. During the first four years, Prof. Friel oversaw a dramatic increase in the department's activities, introducing an LLB to replace the BA in European Studies & Law, the first evening law degree in Limerick, and the graduate entry LLB. In addition, the first LLM at the University was introduced in European & Comparative Law. The Centre for Criminal Justice was established in 1997 as part of the strategic direction for the Law School. Prof. Friel pioneered international links particularly in North America with the University of Victoria in Canada and the University of Kansas in the US; faculty and student exchanges grew significantly. In 2000, following the advice of the Advisory Board established by Prof. Friel, the University changed from the Department of Law to the School of Law.
In 2002, Prof. J Paul McCutcheon became Head of the School. He introduced the joint MA in Civil & Canon Law with Mary Immaculate College, Limerick and oversaw the introduction of the new Law Plus programme, an innovative departure from existing law programmes in other universities. He also supported the establishment of the School’s second research grouping, the International Commercial and Economic Law Group. During this period, the Law School centralised to the Foundation Building. Prof. McCutcheon secured a prestigious tender with the Judicial Studies Institute to draft their strategic plan and led the tender to provide training in commercial and company law to the Revenue Commissioners. Prof. McCutcheon stepped down in 2007 to take up the position of Vice President of Academic Affairs and Registrar of the University of Limerick.
In 2007, Prof. Friel again took up the position as Head of School and introduced three new LLM programmes: International Commercial Law, Human Rights & Criminal Justice, and the General LLM programme. Recognising the need to build on his successful introduction of the lawyering modules and the School’s focus on clinical legal education, Prof. Friel established the first moot court in Ireland. This state-of-the-art facility created a replica courtroom with audio visual recording and IT technology; it remains an integral element of the School’s educational philosophy.
In 2010, Ms Sinead Eaton became Head of the School. Sinead’s focus was on the external stakeholders of the School of Law. She built on her time in practice by putting in place more clinical co-op placements for law students in more solicitors’ firms and secured student prizes and scholarships from solicitors’ firms to incentivise and enhance the experience of law students. Sinead also made an appointment of an Adjunct Professor to the School of Law, Mr Justice John L. Murray, former Chief Justice of Ireland, who was later appointed Chancellor of the University. During her time as Head of the School, Sinead also arranged the appointment as Adjunct Professor of Mr Justice John Edwards. Sinead invested time too in the creation of an alumni network for the School of Law. She initiated annual alumni gatherings, an alumni mentoring programme for current law students, and continues to operate a School of Law alumni group on LinkedIn.
Sinead’s tenure as Head was followed by Jennifer Schweppe as Interim Head for six months. Jennifer Schweppe was appointed Head of the School in November 2013 for an interim period until the end of June 2014. During that time, she placed significant emphasis on developing and improving the important strategic relationships between the School and its external partners. In this regard, she appointed Ray Friel in the newly developed role of International Co-ordinator and led the appointment of four adjunct professors: Professor Rose Hynes, Professor William Murphy, Professor Tom O'Donnell, and Professor Michael Reilly, with Jack Nicholas appointed as an adjunct lecturer. Jennifer also placed emphasis on developing student prizes and formalising these through the involvement of external stakeholders such as the A&L Goodbody Mooting Competition and the Kate Fleming Memorial Negotiation Competition.
In 2014, Prof. Shane Kilcommins took up the role of Head of the School. Since then, the School has introduced a new BA in Criminal Justice, an LLB (Clinical), several online law modules, a new MA in Serious Crime Investigation, a new online BA in Policing & Human Rights, and a new online Masters in Criminal Justice and Human Rights. The School has established extensive links with An Garda Síochána that has involved the introduction of several new programmes for that organisation. Prof. Kilcommins secured the first inter-faculty appointment at UL, a Senior Lecturer in Law with the Graduate Entry Medical School. Along with Prof. Friel, Prof. Kilcommins successfully tendered for and launched an ambitious new research programme at the School of Law to help improve the effectiveness of the youth justice system in Ireland. The programme is funded by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and is led by Prof. Sean Redmond. The Law School won the AIB Private Banking Award for Best Law School in Ireland in 2017. Prof. Kilcommins also oversaw the redesign and refurbishment of the Law School and the establishment of a new law library and A&L Goodbody Appeal Moot Courtroom in the library extension. He also led the tender with Sinead Eaton (2019-2024) to provide training in commercial and company law to the Revenue Commissioners. The School is now ranked in the top 300 Law Schools in the World (QS Rankings).