The Order of the Coif /ˈkɔɪf/ is an honor society for United States law school graduates. The name is a reference to the ancient English order of advocates, the serjeants-at-law. A student at an American law school who earns a Juris Doctor degree and graduates in the top 10 percent of his or her class is eligible for membership if the student's law school has a chapter of the Order. The Order of the Coif honor society was founded in 1902 at the University of Illinois College of Law.
According to the organization's constitution, "The purpose of The Order is to encourage excellence in legal education by fostering a spirit of careful study, recognizing those who as law students attained a high grade of scholarship, and honoring those who as lawyers, judges and teachers attained high distinction for their scholarly or professional accomplishments."
The exact induction process varies by law school, but students are generally notified of their membership after the final class ranks at their schools are announced. A new member receives a certificate of membership, a badge of membership for wear during academic ceremonies, a Coif key, and in some cases an actual coif or a representation of one.
The basic requirement for membership is ranking in the top 10% of a member school's graduating class. If a member law school graduates fewer than 30 students, it may induct its top three students. A school can decide not to allow an otherwise eligible student to receive the honor, and may impose additional requirements for membership beyond the organization's national requirement of being in the top 10% of the class.
Each member school may also induct a faculty member and one honorary member each year. The national organization's executive committee may also elect a limited number of honorary members. Those chosen for honorary membership are usually U.S. Supreme Court justices and other preeminent members of the legal profession.
As of 2011, 81 of 199 United States law schools accredited by the American Bar Association to award the J.D. degree had Order of the Coif chapters. In that year, all but five of the top fifty law schools, as ranked by U.S. News, were member schools. The others, Boston University School of Law, Columbia Law School, Harvard Law School, George Mason University School of Law, and Notre Dame Law School, have never applied for a chapter. Notre Dame and Columbia are ineligible because they do not rank the top 10% of their graduating class by grade point average, which the order's constitution requires.
For a law school to establish a chapter, the school must apply for a charter. If the organization's executive committee determines, after considering the law school's written submissions and its own investigation (which may include an examination of the school by a visitation team), that the applicant merits a chapter, it will submit the application for a vote by the existing chapters. A charter for a new chapter requires approval by 80% of the existing chapters.
Criteria considered when a law school applies for a chapter of the Order include: (1) American Bar Association and Association of American Law Schools approval; (2) at least ten years of existence as a law school; (3) affiliation with a university; (4) if a part-time J.D. program exists, the part-time program must offer students and faculty affiliated with the part-time program the same scholarship opportunities as all other students and faculty; (5) a stimulating intellectual environment for the study of law; (6) commitment of the university and law school administration to quality legal education; (7) faculty scholarship and institutional support for same; (8) a diverse educational program; (9) a diverse student body with strong academic credentials; (10) a law library that will support and encourage research activity; and (11) appropriate physical facilities.
A law school can also be removed from the Order if a two-thirds majority of member schools agrees to bring the matter to a vote and a four-fifths majority (excluding the school in question) then votes to remove the school.