In 1882 William Carey Jones, a young professor in the Latin Department, taught a class in Roman law, the first law course offered on the Berkeley campus. Jones was the grandson of Senator Thomas Hart Benton and the nephew of explorer John C. Frémont.

As an 1875 graduate of the University of California, he was one of the first students to attend classes on the Berkeley campus when the university moved from its original location in downtown Oakland. Though he had "read the law" with the intention of becoming an attorney (like his father before him), Jones was persuaded by UC Regent Horatio Stebbins to join the university administration instead. His strong background in Classics led to his appointment as Instructor in Latin in 1877, and five years later he was able to bring his two fields of interest together in the initial course on Roman law.

So popular was he as a professor that the following semester he was appointed to the newly formed Department of History and Political Science, teaching classes in Constitutional Law and Constitutional History.  On August 17, 1894, the university established a separate Department of Jurisprudence with a curriculum of seven courses-all taught by Professor Jones.  It was not until 1897 that the faculty was augmented, but by 1901 it included two professors, two instructors, and three lecturers. All law courses were taught in a single room in North Hall, with the seven faculty members sharing one office.

From its inception, Berkeley Law, unlike many law schools of the period, was open to all qualified applicants, regardless of their gender, religion, or ethnicity. The Department of Jurisprudence granted its first Bachelor of Law degrees in 1903, to Harry Hollzer, Motoyuki Negoro, and Charles Irving Wright. Three years later it awarded its first J.D. degrees to Emmy Marcuse, Robert McWilliams, and Carlos White. In 1922 Walter A. Gordon became the first African-American to earn a law degree at Berkeley. By 1940 over 100 women had graduated from the law school.

The burgeoning program soon outgrew its single classroom in North Hall, and Professor Jones began to push for a separate law building. In 1906 Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt offered to pay for the construction of a new building as a memorial to her late husband, attorney John Henry Boalt. Mrs. Boalt donated two lots of land in San Francisco to fund the construction, but before the university could dispose of the properties, the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire destroyed most of the city. Both lots were in the so-called "burned zone," and selling them became a challenge. The disaster also caused a spike in construction costs, so that additional funds were needed. The lawyers of California pledged an extra $50,000, and in 1911 the Department of Jurisprudence moved into a Beaux Arts gem designed by architect John Galen Howard. The following year, on November 12, 1912, the department was elevated to become the School of Jurisprudence. 

William Carey Jones was passionate about the need for a law school on the Berkeley campus. Hastings College of the Law, which had been founded in 1878 as the law school for the University of California, had developed in San Francisco as an independent vocational school. Jones wanted something very different. He envisioned the teaching of law as an academic discipline, one that would be integrated into the intellectual life of the university, both in the humanities and in the sciences. He designed a program that was academically rigorous and pedagogically innovative. Early on, the law program adopted the case method then being pioneered at Harvard Law School. In 1916 Berkeley's progressive police chief, August Vollmer, was hired to teach a class in criminology based on his controversial theories of scientific law enforcement and on his many years of practical street experience. In 1919 Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong was appointed as the first woman law professor in America.  

In 1950 the School of Jurisprudence was renamed the School of Law, and the following year it moved into a new building. Throughout the next decade, William Prosser (whose Handbook of the Law of Torts is recognized as a classic of legal scholarship) led the school through a period of rapid expansion, in both the complexity of its curriculum and the impact of its scholarship on the international legal community. The School of Jurisprudence awarded its first LL.M. degrees were awarded in 1952 and during Dean Prosser's tenure, graduate students were drawn to Berkeley from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Greece, India, the Philippines, Germany, Australia, Norway, Italy, Belgium, and France. 

Students have graduated from Berkeley Law to become leaders in the fields of jurisprudence, politics, academia, and industry. Eight have become justices of the California Supreme Court. Two have become governor of the state. One-Earl Warren, class of 1914-was appointed Chief Justice of the United States. William Carey Jones's single classroom in North Hall has over the last century grown into one of the nation's premier centers for legal education, preparing outstanding leaders for the nation and the world.