A new era of instruction was initiated with the hire of John Barbee Minor in 1845. An 1834 law graduate of UVA, Minor remained at the helm of the law school for 50 years. In his History of the University of Virginia, Philip Alexander Bruce describes Minor’s personality as a young lawyer: “From the hour of his first admission to the bar, he had displayed all those qualities which afterwards so conspicuously distinguished him as an instructor. It is said that, even as a young lawyer, he exhibited extraordinary powers of analysis; that he refused to ask for or accept any relaxation in the stiffest requirements of pleading; and that he showed familiarity with the most obscure and abstruse rules and forms of practice, but, at the same time, was equally well informed about the broad general principles of jurisprudence.” A rigorous and demanding instructor, in Minor’s first ten years of teaching, a mere nine percent of his students were able to pass the exam and earn a Bachelor of Laws degree. His experience as a legal practitioner influenced the way he structured his law courses, affording students the opportunity to combine practical skills with a systematic study of the concepts of law. In 1870, Minor was persuaded to publish his Institutes of Common and Statute Law, cementing his reputation as the leading legal professor in the south and boosting the enrollment of the law school dramatically.
Despite the rigor of his course and examinations, Minor earned the loyalty and admiration of scores of law students during his 50 year tenure at the helm of the University of Virginia law school. He allowed financially strapped students to defer payment of fees until they were established in practice, and put considerable time into writing recommendations that would enable students to secure good positions upon graduation. In 1870 he established a summer law course for practitioners who needed to supplement their practical skills and knowledge of the law. Minor retired from teaching just weeks before his death in July of 1895.