Order of the Coif

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Order of the Coif
Founded1902; 122 years ago (1902)
University of Illinois College of Law
TypeHonor society
AffiliationIndependent, ACHS (former)
Emphasislaw graduates
Colors  Maroon and   Black
SymbolSerjeant-at-law with Wig and Coif
Members25,000 lifetime
HeadquartersWest Virginia University College of Law
101 Law School Drive

Morgantown, WV 26506
WebsiteOfficial website

The Order of the Coif (/ˈkɔɪf/) is an American honor society for law school graduates. The Order was founded in 1902 at the University of Illinois College of Law.[1][2] The name is a reference to the ancient English order of advocates, the serjeants-at-law, whose courtroom attire included a coif—a white lawn or silk skullcap, which came to be represented by a round piece of white lace worn on top of the advocate's wig. A student who earns a Juris Doctor degree and graduates in the top ten percent of their class is eligible for membership if the student's law school has a chapter of the Order.[3]


Medieval coif as worn by Aaron of Sur, 1500-1550

The University of Illinois College of Law established the Order of the Coif in 1902.[4] According to the organization's constitution, "The purpose of The Order is to encourage excellence in legal education by fostering a spirit of careful study, recognizing those who as law students attained a high grade of scholarship, and honoring those who as lawyers, judges and teachers attained high distinction for their scholarly or professional accomplishments."[5][2]

In the late 19th century, several leading American law schools had established honors fraternities to recognize scholarship and distinction within the ranks of Juris Doctors in the United States. One of these, at the University of Illinois, was originally named Theta Kappa Nu.[6] It inspired several additional chapters in Nebraska, Missouri, and Wisconsin. A local legal honor society had formed in 1907 at Northwestern University, adopting the name Order of the Coif, but three years later, in 1910, would accept a charter from Theta Kappa Nu. Even with this charter the Northwestern group retained use of the earlier name, which was one of the factors which necessitated a discussion and eventual negotiation of a merger, and not just an absorption.

Also, in 1910 chapters at Iowa and Michigan were formed. Rapid expansion and divergent practices at these early schools led to calls for a national convention. At this meeting, in 1911, it was determined to adopt the original name of the Northwestern group, the Order of the Coif, along with a revised constitution that was fully ratified in 1912. Thus the American Order of the Coif dates to its earliest group, in Illinois, from 1902, and adopted its name from both the Northwestern group and its institutional inspiration, the English Order.[1][2][7]


The symbolism of the Order of the Coif is far older, having evolved from the legal traditions of the Middle Ages in England. The Coif itself originated as a tight-fitting headpiece once used by both men and women. A version of this, in the form a close-fitting hood that covered all but the face, was adopted as a symbol for those barristers who had been recognized as serjeants-at-law and thus formed the narrow pool of legal practitioners who could be appointed judges of the Court of Common Pleas or, later, of the King's Bench. With this distinctive apparel, the serjeants-at-law became known as "serjeants of the coif" and their group within society as the original Order of the Coif; this predecessor inspired the name and markings of the American Order, although beyond inspiration there is no legal connection between the two. White wigs were so often sewn onto the coif that their usage became conjoined.[1]

One of the earliest known (English) serjeants of the coif was a man named Geoffrey Ridel, named so in the year 1117. The early writer, Geoffrey Chaucer made mention of Serjeants at Law in the preface to his novel, The Canterbury Tales. Through the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, important English jurists were so recognized: Bacon, Blackburn, Blackstone, Campbell, Cavendish, Coke, Coleridge, Fortesque, Glanville, and Littleton, these may be the best known. But in the 18th century, rumblings of dissatisfaction with this arrangement grew. The English Order's privileged hold on the court was finally ended when a Crown Warrant was issued in 1839 which commanded Common Pleas to permit “gentlemen of the bar generally” to be allowed to practice before it. Objections were litigated briefly, but by the following year, the matter had been settled with the power of the Order broken. Its last meeting was held in 1877.[1]

The wig and coif remain standard courtroom attire today in England and Commonwealth countries.[1]


The induction process varies by law school, but students are generally notified of their membership after the final class ranks at their schools are announced. A new member receives a certificate of membership, a badge of membership for wear during academic ceremonies, a Coif key, and in some cases an actual coif or a representation of one.

The basic requirement for membership is ranking in the top 10% of a member school's graduating class. If a member law school graduates fewer than 30 students, it may induct its top three students. A school can decide not to allow an otherwise eligible student to receive the honor and may impose additional requirements for membership beyond the organization's national requirement of being in the top 10% of the class.[8]

Each member school may also induct a faculty member and one honorary member each year.[9] The national organization's executive committee may also elect a limited number of honorary members.[10] Those chosen for honorary membership are usually U.S. Supreme Court justices and other preeminent members of the legal profession.[11][7]


As of December 2022, 87 of 203 United States law schools accredited by the American Bar Association to award the Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree had Order of the Coif chapters.[12][4] Following is a list of chapters of Order of the Coif.[13]

Charter date Institution Location Status References
1902 University of Illinois College of Law Champaign, Illinois Active
1904 University of Nebraska College of Law Lincoln, Nebraska Active
1906 University of Missouri School of Law Columbia, Missouri Active
1907 Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law Chicago, Illinois Active
1908 University of Wisconsin Law School Madison, Wisconsin Active
1909 University of Virginia School of Law Charlottesville, Virginia Active
1911 University of Iowa College of Law Iowa City, Iowa Active
1911 University of Michigan Law School Ann Arbor, Michigan Active
1912 Case Western Reserve University School of Law Cleveland, Ohio Active
1912 University of Chicago Law School Chicago, Illinois Active
1912 University of Pennsylvania Law School Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Active
1912 University of Pittsburgh School of Law Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Active
1912 Stanford Law School Stanford, California Active
1915 Cornell Law School Ithaca, New York Active
1915 University of Minnesota Law School Minneapolis, Minnesota Active
1915 Ohio State University Moritz College of Law Columbus, Ohio Active
1919 Yale Law School New Haven, Connecticut Active
1924 University of Kansas School of Law Lawrence, Kansas Active
1924 University of Washington School of Law Seattle, Washington Active
1924 Washington University School of Law St. Louis, Missouri. Active
1925 Indiana University Maurer School of Law Bloomington, Indiana Active
1925 University of North Dakota School of Law Grand Forks, North Dakota Active
1925 University of Oklahoma College of Law Norman, Oklahoma Active
1925 West Virginia University College of Law Morgantown, West Virginia Active [14]
1926 George Washington University Law School Washington, D.C. Active
1926 University of Texas School of Law Austin, Texas Active
1927 University of California-Berkeley School of Law Berkeley, California Active [15]
1928 University of Cincinnati College of Law Cincinnati, Ohio Active
1928 University of North Carolina School of Law Chapel Hill, North Carolina Active
1929 University of Southern California Gould School of Law Los Angeles, California Active
1931 University of Kentucky College of Law Lexington, Kentucky Active
1931 Tulane University Law School New Orleans, Louisiana Active
1933 Duke University School of Law Durham, North Carolina Active
1934 University of Oregon School of Law Eugene, Oregon Active
1938 University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law Baltimore, Maryland Active
1942 University of Colorado Law School Boulder, Colorado Active
1942 Paul M. Hebert Law Center Baton Rouge, Louisiana Active
1948 Vanderbilt University Law School Nashville, Tennessee Active [16]
1950 Washington and Lee University School of Law Lexington, Virginia Active
1951 University of Tennessee College of Law Knoxville, Tennessee Active
1952 Drake University Law School Des Moines, Iowa Active
1952 Syracuse University College of Law Syracuse, New York Active
1953 University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Salt Lake City, Utah Active
1954 University of California Hastings College of Law San Francisco, California Active
1954 University of California, Los Angeles School of Law Los Angeles, California Active
1955 University of Florida College of Law Gainesville, Florida Active
1959 New York University School of Law Manhattan, New York City, New York Active
1961 Villanova University School of Law Villanova, Pennsylvania Active
1964 Boston College Law School Newton, Massachusetts Active
1966 Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law Dallas, Texas Active
1969 University of Alabama School of Law Tuscaloosa, Alabama Active
1969 University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law Tucson, Arizona Active
1971 Emory University School of Law Atlanta, Georgia Active
1971 University of New Mexico School of Law Albuquerque, New Mexico Active [17]
1972 University of California, Davis School of Law Davis, California Active
1974 Texas Tech University School of Law Lubbock, Texas Active
1977 University of Georgia School of Law Athens, Georgia Active
1979 Florida State University College of Law Tallahassee, Florida Active
1981 William & Mary Law School Williamsburg, Virginia Active [18]
1982 University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law Sacramento, California Active
1982 University of South Carolina School of Law Columbia, South Carolina Active
1983 University of Houston Law Center Houston, Texas Active [19]
1984 Arizona State University College of Law Phoenix, Arizona Active
1984 Brigham Young University Law School Provo, Utah Active
1984 University of Toledo College of Law Toledo, Ohio Active
1984 Wayne State University Law School Detroit, Michigan Active
1985 University of Wyoming College of Law Laramie, Wyoming Active
1988 Georgetown University Law Center Washington, D.C. Active
1989 Chicago-Kent College of Law Chicago, Illinois Active
1989 University of Miami School of Law Coral Gables, Florida Active
1990 Loyola Law School Los Angeles, California Active
1992 DePaul University College of Law Chicago, Illinois Active
1994 American University Washington College of Law Washington, D.C. Active
1994 Fordham University School of Law Manhattan, New York City, New York Active
1996 University of San Diego School of Law San Diego, California Active
1997 Wake Forest University School of Law Winston-Salem, North Carolina Active
1999 Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law New York City, New York Active
2004 Santa Clara University School of Law Santa Clara, California Active
2004 Seton Hall University School of Law Newark, New Jersey Active
2008 Pepperdine University School of Law Malibu, California Active
2012 University of Richmond School of Law Richmond, Virginia Active
2014 University at Buffalo Law School Amherst, New York Active
2014 Temple University Beasley School of Law Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Active
2016 University of Denver Sturm College of Law Denver, Colorado Active
2016 Georgia State University College of Law Atlanta, Georgia Active
2018 Rutgers Law School Newark and Camden, New Jersey Active
2019 Texas A&M University School of Law Fort Worth, Texas Active
2022 Penn State Law University Park, Pennsylvania Active

Notable members[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Gasaway, Laura N. "History". www.orderofthecoif.org. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Anson, Jack L.; Marchenasi, Robert F., eds. (1991) [1879]. Baird's Manual of American Fraternities (20th ed.). Indianapolis, IN: Baird's Manual Foundation, Inc. p. VI-127-128. ISBN 978-0963715906.
  3. ^ Order of the Coif Constitution 2003 [cited herein as Constitution]. Retrieved January 2, 2010.
  4. ^ a b "Member Schools". orderofthecoif.org. 14 December 2022. Retrieved 14 December 2022.
  5. ^ Constitution § 2.2.
  6. ^ This name, briefly used by a few early chapters between 1902 and 1911 was retired after the growing fraternity determined in 1911 to adopt the earlier name that was used by its Northwestern chapter. Thus was created the American Order of the Coif. There is no connection between the legal honor society and a later developed national academic fraternity of the same name, Theta Kappa Nu, formed in 1924, which later would merge into Lambda Chi Alpha.
  7. ^ a b York, Kenneth H. (1952). "Legal Fraternities" (PDF). Michigan Law Review. 50 (7). The Michigan Law Review Association: 1047–56. doi:10.2307/1284939. JSTOR 1284939. Retrieved 27 October 2021.
  8. ^ Constitution §§ 5.1–5.2.
  9. ^ Constitution §§ 5.3–5.4(a).
  10. ^ Constitution § 5.4(b).
  11. ^ Order of the Coif, Honorary Members.
  12. ^ "ABA-Approved Law Schools". americanbar.org.
  13. ^ "Member Schools". The Order of the Coif. Retrieved 2023-12-31.
  14. ^ "Honors and Awards | Order of the Coif". College of Law West Virginia University. Retrieved 2023-12-31.
  15. ^ "Order of the Coif and Dean's List". Berkeley Law. Retrieved 2023-12-31.
  16. ^ Renshaw, Grace Renshaw (2023-11-17). "Members of the Class of 2023 Selected for Order of the Coif - Vanderbilt Law". Vanderbilt Law School. Retrieved 2023-12-31.
  17. ^ "Order of the Coif". School of Law The University of New Mexico. Retrieved 2023-12-31.
  18. ^ "Order of the Coif". William & Mary Law School. Retrieved 2023-12-31.
  19. ^ "The Order of the Coif - List of UH Chapter members". University of Houston Law Center. Retrieved 2023-12-31.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]