Law schools and business schools attract very bright people, many or perhaps most of whom have their eyes on careers that will pay handsomely. To compete for new generations of very bright people, professional schools need continual investment in the faculty and facilities that make them attractive places of study. To invest, the schools need constant infusions of cash. For a publicly supported professional school like Boalt Hall. most of the cash comes from the state’s taxpayers, student fees, and private donors. Not suprisingly, the biggest group of donors are alumni, the past generations of very bright students who have gone on to their brilliant and rewarding careers. Once the alums have coughed up their money — and the schools remind them often that it would be greatly appreciated if they could scan their forgotten T-bill accounts for a few thousand stray bucks to help out the alma mater — the school has a way of giving back: Hanging the donor’s name in a place of honor. The more decimal places on the check, the grander the placement.
At Boalt, the former law dorm cafeteria (now a cafe) is named for Melvin Belli, a fabulously successful San Francisco ambulance chaser of the old breed and old century; the registrar’s office bears the name of Larry Sonsini, perhaps the most successful and best-known technology lawyer in Silicon Valley. The names are everywhere. A dogleg lobby between the law library and the registrar has two names — one for each section of the passageway. One section of Boalt’s main courtyard memorializes a family that produced a half-dozen Boalt grads between 1930 and 1970 (and lots of gifts, too).
Even individual offices have donor nameplates — though I’m not sure whether it’s the office or the fancy modern brushed aluminum address sign (with coordinating mini-corkboard) the donors’ gift paid for. I was curious about the name attached to my shared office, number 205. Howard B. Crittenden Jr. was a pre-Web man and left only a modest store of Google-able facts — just four hits, in fact. They’re all lawsuits, and the first one is a beauty: A case that arose in the early ’60s when Howard and his two brothers fell to squabbling about an inheritance and wound up in court.