OU Law Conversations: Dean Emeritus Andrew Coats

October 12, 2020

University of Oklahoma College of Law, 1963
University of Oklahoma, 1957

What led you to OU Law?

I have wanted to go to law school since I was a teenager. I was active in speech contests and enjoyed making oral presentations. When I was in high school, I would go downtown and watch some of the trials at the courthouse, so, I got acquainted with the courtroom rather early. I obtained a Navy scholarship to go to OU. I was a regular Navy midshipman then I served three years in the far east before coming back to law school. I wanted to attend law school and came back to OU.

In those days, it was easy to get into law school, but much harder to finish. For example, my class started at 150 students and graduated 100. We even picked up some who returned from the service. It was a scary time because I had several friends who went to law school and flunked out. I was intimidated by the idea of going to law school and wanted to do well.

Tell us about your law school experience.

The class of 1963- most of us had been in the service. The whole group was one that worked really hard on their grades and in law school. Over the years, our class has stayed together and most of my classmates have become very successful lawyers, judges, elected officials in their communities; people who have really done an outstanding job. My best recollections of law school are the times that I spent with my classmates. In those days, we had a very fine faculty and I thought the legal education I got was as fine as anybody’s.

What are some of your favorite memories from law school?

We had a contracts professor named Elbridge Phelps who was known for being very strict in the way he did his grades. For example, you could only write on the first four front pages of your bluebook and if you went over into the margins, then he crossed it out. If it didn’t make sense after that, then he flunked you. He was also a very conservative person. He really lived a quiet and unobtrusive life. He always had everybody over to his house for popcorn and water and talked to them about going to law school.

Dr. Maurice Merrill nominated me for an important award and he had to review my undergraduate records to make that nomination. I was not a very serious student in undergrad and didn’t pay as much attention to my studies as I should have. He said, “Andy I’ve had occasion to review your undergraduate transcript,” and he said that I was “cursed with an overarching sense of conviviality.”

Eugene Kuntz was a splendid professor and a good teacher and a great practicing lawyer. McAfee and Taft firm at that time was named McAfee, Taft, Case, Kuntz. He later became Dean for a few years and went back to faculty. He played the Zither. I’ve never known many people or law professors who could do that. There were about eight of us that all had really good voices and we would carol at Christmas time and go to the faculty houses and sing to them. We usually ended up at Gene Kuntz’s house.

Tell us about starting your career.

I always thought I would be a trial lawyer and that’s what I did. William Paul was then partner at Crowe & Dunlevy in Oklahoma City. He called Judge Lee West and asked who he should hire for an internship. At the time, Judge West was a judge in Pontotoc county in Ada while also spending that year teaching us evidence and trial practice. Internship programs were rare in those days. Lee West recommended me and Don Prey, but Don wanted to go to Tulsa. Don is who the OU Law Library is named after. I began to do work for VP Crowe.

As I tell the students coming in, your law school classmates, when you do it right, are your best friends for the rest of your life. It is important that you maintain those relationships and don’t let competing over little stuff get in your way. Over my lifetime, I have had so much business that has been sent to me from my classmates. When I tried a case in their town, I would hire them to help me pick the jury, and, when they had a case in federal court, they would hire me.

I think that those special relationships are nice. When I was in the Navy, I was there on a ship for about six months and I received surprise orders to go to Taiwan to become an advisor for the nationalist Chinese government to work in Military Assistance Advisory Group I stayed there for a few years doing intelligence work. When I got there I saw Ralph Thompson at the bar. We never knew that the other was there but it was quite a surprise. Occasionally I would see him when he would come to Taipei.  Then we were came back to Oklahoma, we are sitting next to each other at the OU football games. You do get a chance to see people in different places and it makes it all worthwhile.

What is your advice for our current students and recent graduates?

Law school is different than undergraduate school in the sense that you need to understand each building block as you go through. I was never able to go back and cram for law school exams. I had to build it every day as I went through. It took me another year to find out that I should not rush out right after class, but instead sit down somewhere and make sure I could read my notes and see if I had any questions that I could ask the professor the next day. You build it a day at a time with what you need to learn that day. If I knew that at the time, then it would have been easier for me.

When I started practicing law, I really focused on how much preparation it takes to practice law and do it right. The danger to our profession isn’t the crooked lawyer, it’s the unprepared lawyer. The amount of preparation to do the job well when you practice law is of incredible importance. My senior partner never thought we were ready. His view was preparation is everything. The big difference in the lawyers who are successful and those who are not is understanding being fully prepared any time that you step into the courtroom. That makes all of the difference. As Mr. Crowe used to say, “they can be taller than we are and funnier than we are, but they can’t outwork us.” That’s why he was the most successful trial lawyer in Oklahoma throughout his life and helped me have the success I had before I came to the law school.


Dean Emeritus Andrew M. Coats was appointed as the Eleventh Dean of the College of Law and Sixth Director of the Law Center on April 25, 1996, and served in that role through June 30, 2010, when he stepped down to return to teaching. Prior to his appointment at The University of Oklahoma, he was a senior partner of the Oklahoma Law Firm of Crowe & Dunlevy.

During his tenure, Dean Coats, a 2005 inductee into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, led a resurgence of the College of Law, overseeing the College’s Centennial Celebration and significant increases both in endowed professorships and scholarships. In perhaps his most substantial impact on the College, he presided over the College’s 1999-2002 Renovation and Construction Project, which, at its completion, saw President Boren recognize his leadership by officially naming Andrew M. Coats Hall in his honor.

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