The Law School opened in 1895 as Temple College's Department of Law. The school's first Dean, Henry S. Borneman, proposed to Russell Conwell that he organize evening courses in the study of law for students wishing to prepare for the bar examination. Dr. Conwell – though not a lawyer – carefully replied: "[Y]ou go ahead. If it is a success, it is your success; if it is a failure, it is your failure." Borneman appointed himself as Dean and proceeded to recruit a faculty. Although he planned to establish both a day and evening division, the day division attracted no students and was canceled, while 46 students initially enrolled in the evening division. The Law School graduated its first class (of 16) in 1901. It received accreditation from the Pennsylvania State Board of Bar Examiners in 1907.
Law School classes were initially held in College Hall, on Temple's main campus. In 1910, the school relocated to Center City Philadelphia, where it had many homes over the years, including a location over a shoe repair shop, another above the noisy printing presses of the Philadelphia Ledger, and one in the Gimbel's Department Store (where students had to walk through the retail merchandise floors to get to class). In 1954, the Law School returned to the University's main campus, and in 1973, it moved into its current main building, Klein Hall.
In 1933 the Law School created a three-year day division, and in that same year it received full accreditation and an "A" rating from the Council on Legal Education of the American Bar Association. The Law School was admitted to full membership in the Association of American Law Schools in 1935. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Law School experienced a deep decline in enrollment and attendant severe financial difficulties, and by 1943, the school was on the brink of closure. However, Judge Charles Klein, for whom the Law School's present main building is named, worked closely with a group of dedicated alumni and professors to save the Law School from collapse. Their efforts eventually culminated in a resurgence in enrollment and the return of the Law School to the University's main campus through the acquisition of the former Keneseth Israel Synagogue, which was renamed Reber Hall. At the dedication of Reber Hall in the spring of 1954, the keynote speaker was Chief Justice Earl Warren, and the dedication was attended by deans of law schools from throughout the country.
During the 1970s and 1980s, under the leadership of Dean Peter J. Liacouras, the Law School greatly expanded its programs. Various "law center" programs with a community outreach focus, such as Temple's Legal Aid Clinic, were founded or significantly expanded. Dean Liacouras established international Summer Abroad programs in Athens, Rome, Tel Aviv and Ghana, and organized foreign law graduate, teaching fellow, and graduate tax programs. Within the J.D. program itself, clinical education received new emphasis, and upper level course offerings were expanded.
Under Dean Robert Reinstein, who served from 1989 to 2008, the Law School prospered. In 1999, to express gratitude for one of the largest gifts ever given to an American law school, the Law School took on the name of its alumnus and benefactor, James E. Beasley. The availability of Beasley scholarships, together with Law Faculty, Conwell and Public Interest Scholarships, continues to draw a bright, diverse student body. The Law School inaugurated a number of new programs during this period, including the semester abroad program in Tokyo, the LL.M. in trial advocacy, the LL.M in Transnational Law, and the LL.M. program for Chinese lawyers. The Centennial capital campaign made possible dramatic renovations to Klein Hall, and contributions from major donors financed the addition of Shusterman Hall in 1997 and of Barrack Hall in 2001 to the Law School facility.
In 2008, Dean Reinstein returned to the faculty after 19 years, and was succeeded by JoAnne Epps, who had served for many years as an Associate Dean. Dean Epps presided over the Upper-Level Curriculum Initiative (ULCI), an eighteen month curricular evaluation and strategic planning process. In 2009, the Law School was selected by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to house its new $19 million Public Health Law Research Program, devoted to funding research into the influence of law on population health. That year, the Law School also established the Conwell Community Corps, and offered recent graduates full-time, paid four- to six-month positions with Philadelphia area public interest agencies.