Bill and Sally Rutter

Edward Imwinkelried
Past teaching award recipient Edward Imwinkelried teaches a law class. (Sam Sellers/UC Davis)

Where law teachers are prized

Bill Rutter was still a law student when he began working to improve lawyer training. It would become a lifelong quest — leading him to publish the two most widely used law-study tools in the country — the Gilbert Law Summaries, and the Bay Area Review and Bar Review Institute (BAR/BRI Review) — and to found The Rutter Group, one of the nation’s leading providers of continuing legal education publications and programs.

Along the way, Rutter developed a deep appreciation for law educators. He established awards for teaching excellence at the UC Davis School of Law and four other California law schools. “He loved and respected the art of teaching, and felt that it needed to be more highly prized,” said Rutter’s son, Paul.

Bill Rutter, who received the 1996 Bernard E. Witkin Medal from the California State Bar for his extraordinary contributions to the legal community, died last February. But thanks to estate planning by Rutter and his wife, Sally, the William and Sally Rutter Distinguished Teaching Award at UC Davis will continue to foster teaching excellence at King Hall.

Rutter was a student at the University of Southern California School of Law when he saw ways to improve his law study guides.

“He went to the owner of the Gilbert Law Summaries and said, ‘I can do a better job,’ and he did,” said Paul Rutter. “He hand wrote the Gilbert Law Summaries while he was going to law school and at night my mom helped type them up. Then he sold them through the bookstore.”


Then one weekend, Rutter was asked at the last minute to substitute-teach a bar review course lesson. This experience opened his eyes to the tremendous business opportunity in creating study materials for aspiring attorneys. Soon after graduating first in his class, Rutter bought the Gilbert Law Summaries and transformed them into the nation’s most popular study aid for law students.

From that point on, Rutter’s career revolved around legal education. While working as a lawyer with Sidney M. Irmas in the firm of Irmas & Rutter, Rutter founded a company in 1965 that later became BAR/BRI. Then, in 1979, he founded The Rutter Group.

As a young lawyer, Rutter was asked by the dean of his alma mater to teach a civil procedure course. “It gave him a great appreciation for the amount of knowledge an instructor needs to have in order to teach and the amount of work needed to prepare for a class,” Paul Rutter said.

This appreciation led Bill and Sally Rutter to establish the William and Sally Rutter Distinguished Teaching Award at UC Davis in 1979. The annual award recognizes teaching excellence, especially those who take on large classes, tough subjects and extra office hours.

In creating BAR/BRI, Bill Rutter sought advice from and developed relationships with several UC Davis law professors. Paul Rutter said his parents chose to establish the award at UC Davis, in part, because of those relationships. They also wanted to support the then-young law school at UC Davis, which has grown into one of the top law schools in the state.

To support the award, Bill and Sally Rutter made current-use gifts annually to UC Davis and attended the award ceremonies for more than 20 years. The Rutters also established a donor-advised fund as part of their estate planning so that, upon their deaths, the award could be supported in perpetuity. However, after Bill died, Sally decided to accelerate the distribution of the funds and created a charitable endowment at UC Davis to support the award.

UC Davis law professors said they are proud and inspired knowing the award will continue indefinitely.

“The award has had a tremendous effect at UC Davis,” said Professor Floyd Feeney, the 1986 and 2008 winner of the award. “It has created a culture at the UC Davis law school that focuses on the importance of teaching, which is a great thing for the university and for our students.”