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An Appreciation

Victor Hugo Lane
The Michigan Alumnus 353

Judge Victor H Lane – An Appreciation


Professor of Law and Dean of the Law School

It is given to few men to exert such fine and per
vasive influence upon an institution of learning 
and its thousands of members as that with which
 Judge Lane blessed and graced the University of Michi
gan, and especially, of course, its Law School. For
 thirty years he was an active member of the law fac
ulty, and for a year and a half after his active pro
fessorship had ended he lived in retirement in Ann
 Arbor, but still deeply interested in, and helpful to, the

Entirely without the aid of calculated methods of 
seeking popularity, shunning public
ity and abhorrent of aggression of all
 kinds. Judge Lane nevertheless exercised an influence equaled, in its en
during quality and its extension to 
thousands of students, by few teach
ers of his generation. 

He was essentially a lawyer — a
 lawyer of the finest standards—who, 
 by reason of his quality, rose above
 mere advocacy to the stature of judge
 and teacher. Though he had a college 
and an engineering training, it is al-
most impossible to think of him in 
any other occupation than that in
 which he achieved distinction. This 
is not because he was a legalist or 
interested in the technicalities of the 
law but because the essential qualities
 of his nature interested him deeply
 and constantly in human beings, and
 especially on the side of conduct. He
 had an instinctive moral sense, which 
enabled him, in almost every situa
tion, to choose easily and unerringly
 between right and wrong; and so it was that his entire 
life was devoted to the practice, administration and 
teaching of law. For to Judge Lane law, if properly 
conceived and interpreted, was synonymous, as the
 ancient Romans and most of the modern European na
tions have it, with Right. 

After graduation from the Law School and ad
mission to the Bar, in 1878, the young lawyer 
began the practice of law at Adrian. There the attitude 
toward life and the law above referred to, his evident 
high integrity and his clear mental vision, soon at
tracted the favorable notice of the community; and al
most by common consent, he became Judge of the Cir
cuit Court while still a very young man. If there were
 those who were misled by Judge Lane's inherent gentle
ness into believing that he lacked strength or firmness, 
they were soon undeceived. For very early the youthful 
judge was confronted with the necessity of making
 decisions not only in pending cases, but in disbarment 
proceedings, which required firmness, courage, and the
 ability to perform a duty, even though painful to him. 

Though he early won deserved reputation as an ex
ceptionally capable judge, when the call to this Law
 School came to Judge Lane, he had little doubt as to
 where his interests lay and as to where he could be most 
useful. And thus began that long service as professor
 of law, which has contributed inestimably to high standards of professional legal service, 
 and of professional standards, in this 
and in many other states. For among 
Judge Lane's old students are many 
successful lawyers and scores of fed
eral and state judges, in every part
 of the country. 

As a professor Judge Lane
 brought to his work a sound 
knowledge of the law, a practical ex
perience in its practice and judicial 
administration. He had a compre
hensive knowledge, particularly of 
the subject of evidence, and imparted
 to his students a clear understanding 
of its merits and not less of its many 
defects. He felt strongly that many 
of the so-called rules of evidence were 
the anachronistic products of an early
 period in the Anglo-American legal 
system, when the jury was made up 
of men very different from those who
 constitute the modern jury, and when 
little or nothing was known of the 
psychology which influences witnesses and controls the 
weighing and interpretation of testimony by jurors.

But Judge Lane will be remembered by his former
 students, colleagues, and all who knew him well, chiefly 
as a just man, of invincible probity, of great kindliness, 
 and of instinctively gentle manners. Sound character
 and charming personality, in the broad sense of both 
terms, Judge Lane possessed in extraordinary measure. This is not a merely formal statement. Invariably, 
 and without exception, those who knew him well never
 failed, in commenting upon Judge Lane, to speak of 
these qualities of his character and personality, and of
 the influence which he exerted upon those who came 
under his instruction. Never did he "preach," much less
 did he scold; yet he was constantly and probably wholly 
unrealizingly a rebuke to wrongdoers and an inspirer 
of aspirations of the best kind.

In the law faculty Judge Lane's judgment was great
ly sought upon every question of policy which came
 before us. The latter half of his service as professor
 was during a period which would have sorely tried
 most men of middle age, whose earlier service as law
 teachers had fallen in a period of radically different
 methods and policies in legal education from those of
 their later years. Brought up under the old, formal lec
ture and textbook methods, Judge Lane not only easily, 
 but by reason of his own conviction heartily entered into 
the development of a case method of study. This School 
never adopted the method of any other school, though
 it gladly availed itself of the merits of the case method
 of study, which had been so convincingly demonstrated
 by the Harvard Law School. Judge Lane's aid in the 
adoption of such a method here, and of developing it
 along lines characteristic of this School, was invaluable. 
 To the very last day of his active service Judge Lane 
was always forward-looking and progressive. Not even 
the most youthful member of our faculty was more 
open-minded or more ready to consider changes and 

During the last two or three years of his life Judge 
Lane suffered from ill health more than any of us 
knew at the time. Physical pain and the gradual diminu
tion of his strength may at times have affected his 
activity; but through it all he remained the kindly, cour
teous and gracious gentleman, who meant so much to 
his close associates. 1 should like to add a more personal 
expression of my own peculiar indebtedness to the
 subject of this sketch. When I began my deanship
 Judge Lane was my elder, with a longer general exper
ience and longer service in this Law School. But he 
entered our new relationship with no feeling of irri
tation that a younger man had been put in the admin
istrative position. On the contrary, he was continuously 
and generously kindly and helpful. He did much to
 smooth the way for the new Dean and to help him avoid 
too many or serious mistakes of judgment.

But for all of us his memory will ever be a helpful 
and delightful one. As Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted 
as having said at the funeral of Henry Wadsworth
 Longfellow: "A beautiful spirit has gone from among us.