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Emerson George Spies attended Hobart College where he earned a B.A. in 1936 and then received a B.A. in Jurisprudence in 1938 and a B.C.L. in 1939 from Brasenose College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar. Returning to the states he became a tutorial fellow at the University of Chicago for two years and then went to New York City to join the firm of Mudge, Stern, Williams, & Tucker. Spies entered the Army during World War II and, after completing the Judge Advocate General’s School in Michigan, stayed there to teach until he was persuaded by Col. John Ritchie to join him on the faculty at Virginia after the war. Specializing in real property and real estate finance, he taught Property to every first-year law student from 1947 through 1961, and at the time of his death in 1990 it was noted that Spies had taught half of the Law School's 13,000 living alumni. He was a dynamic, caring teacher who was loved and fondly remembered by his students. As soon as he joined the faculty, Spies was asked to help with the admissions program at the Law School. With characteristic energy and enthusiasm he became deeply involved in the admissions process and conducted it almost singlehandedly for twenty years while teaching a full course load. Accompanying his work in admissions at Virginia was Spies' involvement in the development of the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). In 1947 he along with representatives of Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Pennsylvania formed the Law School Admissions Council which spawned the LSAT. From 1963 to 1966 Spies was head of the council and served on its Board of Trustees until the year of his death.
Spies exerted strong leadership at the Law School in other ways. For ten years he served as chair of the Appointments Committee which attracted a number of outstanding faculty members. In 1976 he became acting dean at the Law School and later that year was appointed dean, a position he held until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 65 in 1980. During his deanship, Walter L. Brown Hall or Phase II of the North Grounds building was completed, funded entirely by private money. As dean he strengthened the school's ties with its alumni and exerted strong leadership in fund-raising for faculty research and scholarships. Commenting on Spies’ leadership, former Dean Bob Scott wrote, “more than anyone I’ve known, he saw his interests and the interests of this institution—his colleagues, students and alumni—as inextricably bound together.” In 1984 Spies was presented the University's Thomas Jefferson Award in recognition of his many contributions to the Law School and University, but especially for his excellence in teaching. Upon his retirement from teaching in 1985 the alumni created the Emerson G. Spies Professorship, which was first held by John Calvin Jeffries, Jr., beloved student and later colleague and close friend of Spies. An avid gardener, he also planned, selected the plants for, and tended a woodland garden at the Law School which was later named for him.
Law of Farm Tenancies in Virginia (Virginia Polytechnic Institute Agricultural Experiment Station, 1958).
The Loughran Foundation Seminar Proceedings on Bankruptcy, Securities and Tax Aspects of Real Estate Workouts (chairman) (University of Virginia School of Law, 1978).
Some Considerations in Conveying to Husband and Wife, 34 Va. L. Rev. 480-492 (1948).
A Critique of Conveyancing, 38 Va. L. Rev. 245-265 (1952).
Title to the Family Dwelling: Some Neglected Considerations, 40 Va. L. Rev. 161-176 (1954).
The Annual Survey of Virginia Law: Property, 42 Va. L. Rev. 1182-1189 (1956); 43 Va. L. Rev. 1172-1180 (1957); 44 Va. L. Rev. 1391-1405 (1958); 45 Va. L. Rev. 1451-1464 (1959); 46 Va. L. Rev. 1662-1672 (1960); 47 Va. L. Rev. 1483-1495 (1961); 48 Va. L. Rev. 1546-1554 (1962); 49 Va. L. Rev. 1651-1662 (1963); 50 Va. L. Rev. 1487-1496 (1964); 51 Va. L. Rev. 1647-1662 (1965); 53 Va. L. Rev. 223-234 (1967); 53 Va. L. Rev. 1642-1656 (1967); 54 Va. L. Rev. 1244-1264 (1968); 55 Va. L. Rev. 1568-1580 (1969); 56 Va. L. Rev. 1546-1558 (1970).
Farm Tenures in Virginia, 43 Va. L. Rev. 441-463 (1957).
Joint Estates in Property, in Lectures Presented at the 1957 Legal Conference 1-14 (Virginia State Bar Association and Virginia State Bar, 1957).
Property Rights of the Surviving Spouse, 46 Va. L. Rev. 157-184 (1960).
Some Domestic Complexities in Estate Planning, in Estate Planning in Virginia 54-68 (Virginia State Bar Association and Virginia State Bar, 1960).
Recovery of Consequential Damages in Eminent Domain (with John C. McCoid, II), 48 Va. L. Rev. 437-458 (1962).
Due Process and the American Criminal Trial, 38 Austl. L.J. 223-237, 263-277 (1964).
The History of Zoning and the Problems of the Uncompensated Landowner, in Zoning and Land Use I-1 to I-11 (Virginia State Bar and Virginia State Bar Association, 1966).
Bar Admissions, Development and Problems, 50(1-2A) Bar Examiner 36-39 (1981).
Review of Haar, Land Planning Law in a Free Society, 38 Va. L. Rev. 561-563 (1952).
Review of Basye, Clearing Land Titles, 40 Va. L. Rev. 545-547 (1954).
Review of Brown, Law of Personal Property, 2d ed., 8 J. Legal Educ. 247-248 (1955).
Review of Dykstra & Dykstra, The Business Law of Real Estate, 42 Va. L. Rev. 443-444 (1956).
Virginia Farm Lease Guide (with W.L. Gibson, Jr., and H.H. Ellis) (Virginia Polytechnic Institute Agricultural Experiment Station, 1958).
Courts Distribute Cost of Government Activity, Va. L. Wkly., Feb. 24, 1966, at 1-2, 4; reprinted in 17 Va. L. Wkly. Dicta 89-94 (1965-66).
Review of Browder et al., Basic Property Law, 20 J. Legal Educ. 233-235 (1968).
Monrad Paulsen, 63 Va. L. Rev. 161-162 (1977).
A Very Special Law Alumni Weekend (with A.C. Epps and Ralph Feil), Va. L. Sch. Rep., Spring 1979, at 7.
P. Browning Hoffman, M.D. (1937-1979), 66 Va. L. Rev. 395-396 (1980).
The Committees and Their Work, Va. B. Ass’n J., Summer 1983, at 32.
Boyd: Outstanding Gentleman & Scholar, Va. L. Sch. Rep., Winter 1986, at 31.
The Association Committees: A Century of Energy and Action, Va. B. Ass’n J., Summer 1988, at 25-28.
Frederick Deane Goodwin Ribble: Dean 1939-63, Va. L. Sch. Rep., Summer 1988, at 20-21.