Charles Vaill Laughlin was born in Pittsfield, Illinois on May 26, 1907. He married Hope Loraine Edson in 1948. They had one adopted son. Laughlin was educated in public schools in Hopkinton, Iowa, and attended Lennox College in that same city. He earned both an L.L.B. in 1929 and an A.B. in 1930 from George Washington University. In 1940 he received an L.L.M. degree from Harvard University. He added a Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.S.D.) degree from the University of Chicago to his credentials in 1942. In 1957, he attended the Academy of International Law at the Hague, Netherlands.
Laughlin practiced in law firms in Washington, D.C. and Chicago during the years 1929-1938. He taught political science at Lennox College in 1931-1932 and again in 1938-1939. In 1940 he began teaching law at Washington and Lee University. In 1942 Laughlin joined the U.S. Army seeing active duty with the Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps from 1943 to 1946. He continued his service with the JAG Corps as a reservist from 1946 to 1960. Returning to the W&L Law School in 1946, Laughlin was made full professor in 1950. He taught there until his retirement in 1977 when he was named professor emeritus. Laughlin's fields of teaching specialization included evidence, jurisprudence, and labor law. Widely known as an authority in labor arbitration, he served as a federal labor arbitrator from 1973 to 1981.
He accepted several visiting professorships during his career, most notably as a Fulbright lecturer in American law at the University of Helsinki, Finland in 1963-1964. Laughlin was published in numerous law reviews, and he wrote nineteen articles for the ABA Journal. He was a major contributor to the 1982 book Legal Education in Virginia, 1779-1979: A Biographical Approach published by the University Press of Virginia.
A life-long Republican, Laughlin held positions in local and state party organizations throughout his career. He was twice a delegate to Republican state conventions (Iowa in 1932 and Virginia in 1952.) In 1932, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Iowa state legislature. He also served as chairman of the Lexington (Virginia) Electoral Board. He served as a U.S. Commissioner (later called U.S. Magistrate) during the years 1962-1974.
Professor Laughlin died on January 29, 1985. The faculty lounge in the W&L law school is named in his honor. In 1977, the Law School Association announced the establishment of the Charles V. Laughlin Award, which is given each year to the outstanding oral advocate in the Burks Moot Court Competition.