In Memoriam: Thomas L. Shaffer, Robert and Marion Short Professor Emeritus of Law

Author: Notre Dame News

Thomas L. Shaffer
Thomas L. Shaffer

Thomas L. Shaffer, Robert and Marion Short Professor Emeritus of Law and former dean of the University of Notre Dame Law School, died Tuesday (Feb. 26) after a long illness.

A teacher and scholar, Shaffer was among the community of scholars exploring interdisciplinary issues at the intersection of law and religion, law and community, law and humanities, and law and literature. In such works as "On Being a Christian and a Lawyer" and "Faith and the Professions," Shaffer wrote about the importance of integrating faith into the teaching and practice of law. As a teacher, he taught legal ethics, estate planning, and law and religion, but at the heart of his teaching was to call his students to reflect on what it means to be a person of faith and a lawyer. “I do not get my morals from the law,” he said during a 2003 roundtable discussion published by the Pepperdine Law Review, “and I do not want my students to.”

Shaffer joined the Notre Dame Law School faculty in 1963. He served as associate dean from 1969 to 1971 and as dean from 1971 to 1975. He later visited at the University of Virginia School of Law and joined the faculty of Washington and Lee University School of Law before rejoining the Notre Dame faculty in 1988 as the first Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law.

Shaffer earned his B.A. from the University of Albuquerque in 1958 and his J.D. cum laude from Notre Dame Law School in 1961. As a law student, he served as editor-in-chief of the law review and graduated first in his class. He practiced law in Indianapolis with Barnes, Hickam, Pantzer & Boyd from 1961 to 1963.

Reflecting on his career in 1997, he identified 1991 as the year of his “conversion” from being primarily a classroom teacher to working with students in the Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic, now known as the Notre Dame Clinical Law Center. As a supervising attorney, he taught clinical ethics, guided the legal practice of law students who served low-income residents in South Bend, and inspired generations of future Notre Dame lawyers.

According to Bob Jones, the Law School’s associate dean for experiential programs and clinical professor of law, “Tom was the spiritual center of the Legal Aid Clinic and regarded as a beloved mentor by every clinician who served there.”

Rick Garnett, the Paul J. Schierl/Fort Howard Corporation Professor of Law and the founding director of the Law School’s Program on Church, State, and Society, said that “Tom Shaffer’s work and thought were, for me, hugely inspiring and influential, ever since I encountered them in law school. He showed me, and many others, that it was possible — and worth doing — to incorporate one’s faith with one’s law practice and scholarship.”

In 2013, the Law School renamed the Notre Dame Law Fellowship the Thomas L. Shaffer Public Interest Fellowship in recognition of Shaffer’s extraordinary dedication to Notre Dame Law students and the public good. The Shaffer Fellowship is a highly competitive, two-year fellowship supporting students who provide direct services to the poor in a nonprofit or government agency.

Visitation will take place at 10 a.m. Friday (March 1) at Little Flower Catholic Church, 54191 Ironwood Road, South Bend. The funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. and interment will follow at Cedar Grove Cemetery on campus. After the interment, a reception will be held at the Morris Inn. All are welcome. In lieu of flowers, Shaffer’s wife, Nancy, and family have asked that contributions be made to the Thomas L. Shaffer Public Interest Fellowship at Notre Dame Law School.

The Law School is planning a memorial celebration of Shaffer’s work and life to be held later in the spring semester. The date will be announced in the near future.

Nell Jessup Newton is the Joseph A. Matson Dean and Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School.

Originally published by Nell Jessup Newton at on Feb. 27.