Renowned Trial Attorney Donates Law Library to Texas Southern University

One of the nation’s most storied trial lawyers and educational philanthropists has donated a major gift to Texas Southern University (TSU)—his law library.

The 1,200-volume collection of books and journals from longtime Houston attorney Joe Jamail is currently being catalogued and organized by campus librarians, says TSU law dean Dannye Holley. Jamail’s gift has an estimated $3 million value. TSU officials hope to have the materials ready for student and faculty use by this fall, if not sooner.

In announcing the donation last week, Jamail credited Texas state Senator Rodney Ellis, a TSU alumnus, with steering him toward TSU.

“We’re quite grateful for the gift,” Holley says, “and for Ellis being the major reason (Jamail) looked in our direction.”

Dr. John Rudley, TSU president, notes, “Sometimes great things happen that you don’t expect. This is one of those things. Joe is known for breaking down barriers.”

In a 60-year career earning him the nickname “King of Torts,” Jamail has been lead counsel for more than 100 personal-injury cases in which each verdict or settlement tallied at least $1 million. His victories have resulted in product recalls from the marketplace of a Remington Mohawk rifle, a Honda all-terrain, three-wheel vehicle and the prescription drug Parlodel. In the Pennzoil v. Texaco case of the mid-1980s, Jamail convinced a jury that a proverbial handshake agreement ought to carry the weight of a signed contract. The jury decided Texaco had derailed Pennzoil’s efforts to acquire Getty Oil and awarded Pennzoil $11 billion, the biggest award in U.S. history for civil damages.

Alongside the information resources that Jamail’s gift will provide TSU students, Holley envisions further opportunities springing from the gift. For instance, TSU officials are considering offering alumni selected sets of volumes from the newly acquired collection in exchange for in-kind, reciprocal gifts to the university. “Some of these books would be wonderful for a young lawyer’s starter library,” Holley says.

Graduates of the law school, which is named after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, have gone on to careers in Congress, the Texas legislature, the judiciary and throughout the legal profession. In recent years, it has been consistently recognized as having one of the most ethnically diverse enrollments nationally. Currently, about 48 percent of law students are Black, 20 percent are Hispanic, 20 percent are White and the rest are other non-White minorities, according to Holley.

TSU officials also are having discussions with Jamail—whose charitable gifts have benefited the University of Texas, Rice University and several medical and health-science schools—about him guest-lecturing on campus about topics such as litigation, class-action lawsuits and a life in law.

“He has signaled that he wants more of an affiliation with us,” Holley says. “We’re delighted because he has long been a fighter for the common good.”

Holley believes Jamail’s interest, coupled with his library gift, can boost the law school’s appeal among prospective students. “Jamail’s gestures make our school more marketable and fit into our effort to build an experiential program,” he says.

After a recent ceremony at his law office announcing the gift, Jamail chatted with leaders of TSU’s student bar association and law review publications. He showed them many keepsakes and photos from his career and recounted the tales and the clients behind them, Holley says, adding how the young people were particularly intrigued and amused by a Xerox copy of a filled-out, bank deposit slip stemming from a case: It was for $3 billion.