University of California Irvine School of Law

University of California Irvine School of Law

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Enrollment: 
334

Five years ago, Erwin Chemerinsky was in the midst of a strange and difficult time as he transitioned from Duke University School of Law to becoming the founding dean of the all-new University of California Irvine School of Law.

Before he was offered the job, the mere idea of adding another law school was the subject of much debate and criticism. The drama only escalated when UCI named Chemerinsky as founding dean, just to have the offer rescinded a week later by UCI Chancellor Michael Drake. After days of criticism, debate and public outcry from conservative and liberal scholars, Drake and Chemerinsky reached an agreement, and he was offered the job a second time.

“I’ve developed a wonderful relationship with the chancellor,” Chemerinsky said about his relationship with Drake now. “He and I co-teach a freshman seminar every year together. There’s been no negative fallout from what occurred five years ago. It’s just one of those things that happens — it was strange and difficult to live through. I took the [dean] position, and we’ve gone from there.”

Once Chemerinsky began his role at the new school, he set the bar high. He said his goal for the school was for it to rank in the top 20 of the U.S. News & World Report rankings in the year it would premiere on the list. It’s been three years since the school opened its doors, and even though it has three more years until it makes a U.S. News debut, the school is quickly climbing the ranks.

UCI was recently ranked seventh on the “Scholarly Impact of Law School Faculties” in 2012, a study released by the University of St. Thomas School of Law. The study was based on a methodology created by University of Chicago professor Brian Leiter. It measures the influence of a law school’s tenured faculty based on citations in recent legal literature.

The ranking proves the school is doing something right, but it is only the beginning. Chemerinsky’s plan for creating a successful law school is to put a strong emphasis on experiential learning.

“I said from the beginning I had two goals for the law school: One was that we would become a top 20 law school from every measure and the other is that we will do the best job possible in preparing students for the practice of law in the highest levels of the profession,” he said.

The latter goal is already a significant part of UCI’s curriculum. It requires every law student to participate in a clinical experience in order to graduate. Students must take an in-house clinic where they represent clients under faculty supervision. They can choose among litigation, community economic development, consumer law, environmental law, immigrants’ rights or human rights. Students are also encouraged to participate in elective clinics such as family violence, employment housing discrimination and international rights.

In addition to the clinical requirement, first-year students are required to go to the Legal Aid Society of Orange County with a public defender and do intake interviews.

“Our first-year students have contact with real clients, which is an important part of our program,” he said.

UCI also offers externship and pro bono programs. Chemerinsky said 98 percent of the graduating class in May did pro bono work. The school encourages first-year students to do 25 hours of pro bono work, while second- and third-year students are asked to do 50 hours a year.

“We’ve made a full commitment in preparing students for the practice of law,” Chemerinsky said. “We give tenure and full voting rights to our clinical learning skills faculty, who are fully integrated into the faculty, so preparing students is a huge component of what we do.”

There are 33 faculty members at the school, and each year Chemerinsky hopes to add a few more. He said his goal is to build a faculty that is of the caliber of the top law school in the country, something he and his faculty are working hard to achieve. But it is not just about hiring the top scholars — he wants people who know how to teach and mentor the students as well.

“We’ve made a real effort to hire people that are not only good scholars, but are really terrific teachers as well,” he said. “So when we think about hiring a person, we look at the quality of teaching, not just scholarship.”

As the school continues to develop, the plan is to slowly grow the number of students and faculty while still maintaining the same overall quality. The school is expected to receive full accreditation by the American Bar Association in 2014, upon which the school will premiere on U.S. News’ law school rankings in spring of 2015.

Even with the goal of achieving ABA accreditation looming in the future, Chemerinsky’s main focus is preparing students for their careers.

“I believe if we can give our students much better skills training, they will be in a much better position relative to the market,” he said. “I’m proud and pleased that of the 58 students who graduated in May, 16 of them were accepted to clerkships — 15 at the federal level and one on the Alaska Supreme Court.”

Chemerinsky said between 75 and 80 percent of the graduating Class of 2012 now have jobs.

But the school has been criticized. Brian Tamanaha, a Washington University School of Law professor, argues in his book, “Failing Law Schools,” that UCI sought to create an “elite” and expensive law school when it could have focused on affordability, especially as a state school. The law school charges approximately $45,000 for in-state students and $55,000 for out-of-state students. Those are comparable to the tuitions at elite public and private law schools. But they are significantly higher than most state schools.

Chemerinsky defended his plan in an open letter.

“Although everyone wants legal education to be less expensive, [Tamanaha] proposes a model that is economically impossible without dramatically decreasing the quality of legal education.”

He said Tamanaha’s approach would require a school to cut faculty in half and rely more on low-cost adjunct faculty. Tamanaha disagreed with this assessment, and said Chemerinsky could have tried to woo the quality law professors even with lower salaries. But Chemerinsky has said: “The University of California must match their current salaries or they will not come. As much as I love living in Southern California, I could not have afforded to leave Duke University if it meant taking a substantial pay cut.

Chemerinsky said he doesn’t worry about the critics and focuses on making the school and its students the best they can be.

“I think if we simply replicate other law schools, then you can question our existence. But I think if we succeed in something different, with preparing students for the practice of law, then I think we justify why we exist,” he said.

Published in Fall 2012

Admission Profile
Application Deadline: 
3/1
Application Fee: 

$0

Financial Aid Deadline: 

2/2

 LSATGPA
75th Percentile1653.68
Median1633.54
25th Percentile1603.32
Financial Profile
 ResidentNon-Resident
Tuition$44,819$51,313
Tuition Part-time
Living Expenses
Median grant$25000
Percent receiving grants92.80%
Estimated net tuition
Employment & Bar Exam Profile
 Rate
Post-grad employment 85.50%
NJ Employment86.8
Bar Passage81.70%
State65.80%
Academic Profile
Best Law Schools 2016: Practical Training: 
A+