Elvin Remus Latty
Professor of Law, 1937-1958, Acting Dean, 1958-1959, Dean, 1959-1966, William R. Perkins Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus, 1966-1972

Elvin R. “Jack” Latty became a member of the law school faculty in 1937 and later served as dean for eight years.  Latty had actually expressed interest in Duke Law a few years earlier.  He wrote to Dean Justin Miller in 1932 and described his background, however at that point Miller had no need for an additional faculty member.  Dean Claude Horack hired Latty five years later to teach corporate law.

Latty is described as energetic, resourceful, and supportive.  Writing after Latty’s death Prof. Mel Shimm thought Latty took decisive action at a critical point in the law school’s history.  The upheaval of the Second World War had disrupted the innovation, growth, and reputation begun by Dean Miller.  Shimm states that the law school had great potential after the war but lacked effective leadership.  After Joseph McClain resigned as dean in 1956, all offers to qualified candidates to replace him were turned down.  In the spring of 1957 the acting dean informed the dismayed faculty that the total number of applications for the fall semester was fifteen.  Shimm wrote, “Literally packing his bag the same day, Jack embarked on a one-man, whirlwind, bush-beating student recruitment campaign.”  Promising plentiful financial aid, Latty raised the incoming first-year class that fall to an acceptable number and quality.

Shimm also relates how Latty somehow managed to convince the university administration to make construction of a new law school building a priority, moving the project to the top of the capital improvement schedule.  Latty’s efforts were recognized at the new building’s dedication ceremony by the chairman of the university board of trustees by describing it as “the house that Jack built."

Another faculty member and eventual dean himself, F. Hodge O’Neal, related another anecdote about Latty in his own tribute piece.  O’Neal described how the onerous responsibility of writing a letter of recommendation for the student placed at the very bottom of the graduating class fell to Latty.  The individual was considered by the faculty to be generally lazy and unmotivated.  However Latty managed to describe the student in the most euphemistic way possible, and closed the letter with the statement, “Sir, you will be very lucky if you can get this young man to work for you.”

Latty completed a BS at Bowdoin College in 1923 and spent the next four years teaching Romance languages at the University of Vermont.  He received his JD from the University of Michigan in 1930.  He then worked in general practice in New York until 1933 when he became a Special Fellow at Columbia.  His got his first position teaching law in 1934, as an associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Law.  In 1936 he earned a Doctor of Juristic Science (J.Sc.D) degree from Columbia.  During WWII he served as a Special Assistant to the American Ambassador in Caracas, and later as the Acting Assistant Chief, Foreign Funds Control Division in the Department of State.  He was a visiting professor at several other institutions, including being a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Pavia in Italy in 1954.  He was appointed acting dean of Duke Law in 1958 and dean in 1959.  In 1966 Latty became the William R. Perkins Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus.  He retired in 1972 and died on the Fourth of July, 1987.


Duke University, School of Law, Bulletin of Duke University School of Law [serial]

Robert F. Durden, The Rebuilding of Duke University's School of Law, 1925-1947 (Part I)[https://perma.cc/K4QM-XH3A], vol. LXVI, no. 3, July 1989 North Carolina History Review 321

Robert F. Durden, The Rebuilding of Duke University's School of Law, 1925-1947 (Part II)[https://perma.cc/V2QP-KHR2], vol. LXVI, no. 4, October 1989 North Carolina History Review 443

Robert F. Durden, The Launching of Duke University, 1924-1949 (1993)

F. Hodge O’Neal, Lest we forget what we owe Jack Latty, 1988 DLJ 22

Melvin G. Shimm, Jack Latty: An Appreciative Remembrance, 1988 DLJ 18

Elvin Remus Latty
Historic Faculty