William Warren, a former dean of UCLA School of Law who left a lasting imprint on the school and the nation’s commercial laws, died on May 30, in Santa Monica, California. He was 92.
UCLA Law grew into its current position as one of the nation’s premier law schools during Warren’s tenure as its fourth dean, from 1975 to 1982. Those pivotal years were marked by expansion of the school’s trailblazing clinical education program, stronger ties to the firms and institutions that hire law school graduates, and a growing reputation as a place where rigorous scholarship, public service and a collegial atmosphere are prized attributes.
People from all corners of the UCLA Law community unanimously recalled Warren as a humble and kind leader, as well as a beloved professor who was one of the nation’s leading scholars in bankruptcy and commercial law.
“He was a legend, a real institutional giant, and a truly lovely human being,” said Jennifer Mnookin, dean of the UCLA School of Law and the David G. Price and Dallas P. Price Professor of Law. “The spirit of community he instilled here and the initiatives he set in motion are what make our law school tick today. All that, plus he was an outstanding scholar and teacher. The frequency with which the alumni I meet reminisce about Bill, both as a professor and as dean, is both heartwarming and striking.”
Warren, who was also the school’s Michael J. Connell Distinguished Professor of Law, embraced faculty, staff and students alike as wise peers, and strove to rid legal education of what he deemed “the old, sadistic, humiliating type of classroom harassment from teachers.”
Generations of students responded in kind. Warren was chosen as Professor of the Year by the UCLA Law classes of 1965, 1969, 1971, 1982, 1984, 1986 and 1991. He won the same honor while teaching at the University of Illinois College of Law in 1959 and at Stanford in 1973. Warren also received UCLA Law’s Rutter Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1984 and the UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award in 1985.
“His talent as a teacher was unparalleled,” said Judge Sandra Ikuta of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and a 1988 graduate of UCLA Law. “I still find myself drawing on the fundamentals of bankruptcy law and the law of real estate secured transactions that I learned from him. His teaching talent was matched by his kindness and patience to his students struggling with this complex material.”
Longtime law school staff members also recall a “sweet man” who met every colleague on a personal level. “Every time I ran into him in the halls, even after he stopped teaching, he would take the time to stop and chat,” said Sean Pine Treacy, assistant dean for curriculum and registration at UCLA Law. “It was clear that Bill cared deeply about the school and the people he worked with.”
Warren was born in Mount Vernon, Illinois, and served in the Army Air Force on the island of Saipan in World War II. He attended the University of Illinois on the G.I. Bill and earned his undergraduate degree in 1948. Inspired by Irving Stone’s seminal biography, “Clarence Darrow for the Defense,” Warren pursued a law degree at Illinois and graduated in 1950. After several years as a law professor at the Ohio State University, Vanderbilt University and Illinois, he received a J.S.D. from Yale Law School in 1957.
Already an academic of high stature when he joined UCLA Law’s faculty two years later, Warren’s work, especially with longtime collaborator Robert Jordan, formed the foundation of contemporary commercial law and made UCLA Law the leading center for the study of that field and bankruptcy. He authored numerous influential articles and books, including two definitive casebooks: “Commercial Law” with Jordan and, later, Steven Walt; and “Bankruptcy” with Jordan and, later, Daniel Bussel and David Skeel Jr.
Warren, again along with Jordan, was also the drafter of Articles 3, 4 and 4A of the Uniform Commercial Code, statutes that continue to govern payments law across the country.
“The system works,” said Bussel, a UCLA Law professor who took over lead authorship of the “Bankruptcy” casebook after his mentor retired. “Every day, billions and billions of dollars are transferred through the system, and Bill created the legal architecture pursuant to which those transactions are effectuated.
“I feel special because of my relationship with him, but I wasn’t special,” Bussel continued. “There were so many people who benefited from his mentorship. He was a role model for everybody on the faculty.”
Warren left to join Stanford’s law faculty in 1972, but he returned to UCLA Law to accept the position of dean in 1975. In 1994, UCLA Law established the William D. Warren Chair in Law in his honor, and his many other accolades included a lifetime achievement award from the State Bar of California in 2000.
“He was a man of immense accomplishments who justifiably could have acted like the cock of the walk, but he was far too much the gentleman to ever be anything but gracious and kind,” said Stephen Bainbridge, the William D. Warren Distinguished Professor of Law at UCLA Law. “He was a font of good advice and a role model for how to conduct oneself both at work and in life.”
Colleagues recall Warren as a jogger, avid reader and classical music enthusiast who continued to join his former coworkers at simulcast Metropolitan Opera performances well into retirement.
Jonathan Varat, dean emeritus and professor of law emeritus at UCLA Law, recalled Warren’s dry wit. “When we faculty attributed too much of our students’ success to ourselves and our teaching, Bill would always say, ‘We’re in the business of making silk purses out of silk purses.’ He had a strong sense of our very privileged position, teaching extremely bright people.”
Warren is survived by his wife, Sue; sister, Shirley; children Dr. John Warren (Dr. Silvana Volpe) and Sarah Warren; two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The family requests that any donations in Warren’s honor be directed to UCLA School of Law.
In a lengthy interview in 2000, Warren reflected on his career, the school’s achievements and aspirations, and the ups and downs of teaching and being an administrator. “I’ve been a very fortunate person,” he said. “Unlike nearly everyone else I know, I’ve spent my life doing exactly what I always hoped to do.”