Graham Lilly to Retire After 40 Years at Virginia

Posted May 11, 2007

lillyWhen Armistead M. Dobie Professor of Law Graham Lillyfirst attended the University’s Law School as a member of the class of 1963, he had no idea he would return only a few years later to teach. Now, 40 years after his first year of teaching at the Law School, he has decided to retire—and those who have worked with him over the years said he will not soon be forgotten.

Lilly completed his undergraduate degree at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1960, continuing on to the Law School afterward, where he served on the editorial board of the Virginia Law Review. Upon graduating, he practiced law with Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C., until he was called into the Army soon after entering the practice.

In the Army, he started off in the infantry and then became a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, serving for three-and-a-half years. While in the JAG Corps, Lilly was eventually assigned to a position at the JAG School in Charlottesville, teaching military law for more than two years and earning the rank of captain.

“My military teaching actually helped prepare me for teaching at this law school,” Lilly said.

Lilly was about to return to practice law in Washington, but there was an unexpected vacancy at the Law School and he was asked to fill in for one year. Soon after, he was invited to continue teaching with a regular appointment.

“I thought about [teaching] and I had certainly enjoyed my military teaching, but I wasn’t actively seeking a teaching position at the end of that,” Lilly said. “And then this [opportunity] came up, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe I’ll try it’—it’ll be a different kind of atmosphere than military teaching, which is very structured and you have to get a lot of information across in a very short period of time. The academic atmosphere in a graduate law school is somewhat different, but there were a lot of points in common.”

In addition to teaching, Lilly has also held a number of other positions in the Law School over the years, including assistant dean (1969-1973), executive director of the Law School Foundation (1973-1976), associate dean for academic affairs (1986-1989), and associate provost of the University (1989-1990).

“Most of these assignments were back in the early days when faculty did all the administrating—we didn’t have separate administrators, at least not very many of them,” Lilly said. “It’s been a career that’s mostly been centered on teaching, but with a lot of other chores along the way, quite diverse in nature, which I enjoyed.”

Over the years, Lilly has taught a wide variety of classes at the Law School, some of the main ones being Evidence, Civil Procedure, Federal Courts, and Constitutional Law. But from time to time, he added, he has taught other courses such as Trial Advocacy, Appellate Advocacy, and Conflict of Laws.

“I have really wandered about the curriculum instead of just staying put,” Lilly said. “But I enjoyed the diversity.”

Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Martha Ballenger was a student of Lilly’s in one of his first Evidence classes, and she noted that he was one of the best professors in her entire law school career.

“He was very skillful at the Socratic Method, but he was also sensitive from time to time to lead us out of the woods when he could tell that we needed a bit more help,” Ballenger said. “When I came back some years later to teach myself, he was the professor whose teaching style I most wanted to emulate.”

Yet those who have worked with Lilly said he contributed so much more than just his knowledge of law.

“Graham’s real subject, more than Evidence, or Conflicts, or Civil Procedure, was always what it means to be a lawyer,” Law School Dean John Jeffries said. “Just as it means something to learn to think like a lawyer, it also means something to learn toserve as a lawyer, and Graham Lilly has taught that, by precept and by example, these past 40 years.”

When Lilly began teaching, the Law School was located in Clark Hall and had a total of 18 faculty members. The school has expanded quite a bit over 40 years, but Lilly noted how some things never change.

“It used to be that the setting was more formal, everyone wore coat and tie, but the spirit of the place is the same,” he said. “That’s a hallmark of UVA Law ... it’s a very congenial atmosphere, and the net result is that our graduates are fiercely loyal to this place, and they give in a proportion that’s unheard of for a public institution. The proportion of people who support this law school with their funds and their energy and their talent is extraordinary.”

After 40 years of dedication to the Law School, Lilly has decided to retire while still at the top of his game. He said he is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, dogs, and horses, and also picking up activities that he hasn’t had much time for recently.

“Well, I just thought that, don’t you think 40 years is enough?” Lilly said with a laugh. “I think so. I wanted to retire while I felt that my teaching was still good and that I would still have plenty of years to be active and involved in things, not only here but just generally.”

Those who have worked with him said he will certainly be missed, and Ballenger said she hopes he remains a frequent presence in Charlottesville and the Law School.

Yet perhaps it was Jeffries who summed up the general sentiment about Lilly’s retirement best: “Graham, if it is possible for an entire institution’s values and culture to be embodied in one individual, you are he,” Jeffries said. “You are the soul of the Law School.”

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