Continuing our series of responses from various legal luminaries to the question: What is the single best idea for reforming legal education you would offer to Erwin Chemerinsky as he builds the law school at UC-Irvine?
John Steele (Special Counsel, Fish & Richardson, Silicon Valley; Lecturer, University of California-Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law; Lecturer, Santa Clara University School of Law; Editor, Legal Ethics Forum blog).
UCI has an undergraduate (LLB) and two graduate (JD & LLM) law programs.
Undergraduate teaching emphasizes lectures, case studies, and skills training for five semesters, with elective seminars thereafter (sometimes taught by grad school profs). Summer internship programs at law firms, non-profits, and government law departments teach students practical skills and enlighten them about career choices. The LLB program attracts socio-economically diverse students who amass less debt and choose jobs they truly want. (Undergrads studying business, history and poli-sci often take LLB courses.)
After a few years of practice, some LLB alums return for one or two year LLM degrees in specialties like public interest, local and state government, and commercial transactions. UCI runs a night-school LLM for local prosecutors and defenders, who study criminal justice policy and work on advanced trial skills. Local courts rely on the program for empirical studies and reform innovations. UCI's LLB alums have found success entering the nation's elite LLM programs, which covet their experience and socio-economic diversity.
The JD program chafes under the "standard model" resulting from ABA accreditation, USN&WR rankings, and UC budgeting. But the LLB program's existence permits the JD program to tilt slightly toward an academic graduate school model -- which the JD faculty favors. The JD program has risen within the top 40 but, alas, the standard model straitjacket has produced another standard JD program populated mostly by upper middle children of upper middle class parents. But UCI's LLB and LLM programs have shaken up American legal education.
For all the posts in the series, see here.