Paul L. Caron

Monday, May 19, 2014

Chemerinsky: The Story of UC-Irvine Law School

Erwin Chemerinsky (UC-Irvine), Creating a Law School That Emphasizes Public Interest Law, 7 DePaul J. for Soc. Just. 1 (2013):

UC-Irvine (2014)In 2007, I accepted the position to be the founding dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law. I decided from the outset to create a law school with a strong emphasis on public service. The Chancellor, Michael Drake, and the Provost, Michael Gottfredson, who hired me agreed to the importance of this. But this, of course, was not the only objective. Several other goals also affected what we could do.

First, the primary goal articulated by Chancellor Drake and Provost Gottfredson was to create a law school that would be ranked in the top 20, by every measure, from the outset. They were terrific in providing the resources to allow us to pursue being a top 20 law school, but this required that our primary criteria in admission be focused on LSAT and GPA numbers. These are a substantial part of every law school's ranking. Commitment to public service, of course, could be a plus in admissions decisions, especially among those with the requisite grades and test scores. But ultimately our admissions decisions would not be very different from other schools that wish to be in the top 20.

Second, we needed to cultivate close relationships with the large law firms in our area. I spent a great deal of time thinking about how to attract terrific students to a brand new law school. The law school hired 10 founding faculty, all stars from top 20 law schools, to arrive a year before the students. My hope was that this would send a message to prospective students of the quality of the new school. We obtained commitments from 75 *4 employers - law firms, government offices and public interest organizations - that they would come and interview our students. This was to communicate to students that they would have job opportunities if they came. My best idea, though, was to offer a full scholarship for all three years of law school to every student in the inaugural class. This received national publicity, and we received about 2,800 applications for the 60 slots and had students turn down many top schools to come. The scholarship money came largely from large law firms in the area. Their incentive was to bring great students to Orange County with the hope they would stay and come to work at their firms. And, of course, we wanted to do all we could to help our students who wanted to go to large firms pursue this.

Third, once the founding faculty arrived, major decisions about the school were made by them and then by the faculty who were subsequently hired. There was no assurance that they would share my vision of the school, especially with regard to an emphasis on public service. We were hiring a founding faculty that would make us a top 20 law school; their views on public interest law really did not play a role in the hiring process.

Within these constraints, though, there was a great deal of opportunity to create a law school that put more of an emphasis on public interest law. This essay is a description of some of the things we have done in this regard. It is too soon to know whether we have succeeded in producing law students who will pursue public interest careers. We have had only two graduating classes and a significant number of students are doing judicial clerkships. We have some students working full-time in public interest, some in government and many at law firms. We have a large number of students doing public interest work during the summers and doing pro bono work during the school year. We will need more time before assessing whether what we have done makes any difference. I know there is more that we can do. This essay describes what we have done in terms of our curricular decisions, our financial assistance, our pro bono program and *5 our career services office. These are not all of the components for designing a law school oriented towards public interest law, but they are certainly crucial aspects of doing this.

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Eric, this school was a fraud and a scam from the beginning. He only talked up the public interest aspect to have an excuse.

Posted by: Barry | Jun 5, 2014 10:54:12 AM

It really is a shame Irvine, with all that money, just aimed to be a generic top 20 law school instead of experimenting. It's only chance to truly make top 20, as opposed to a safe number 50 or whatever it is, was to take a risk by doing something new that might turn out to be a total fiasco. But the risk, and lack of imagination, was probably why it didn't try. It could have been a banking-and-real-estate law school, or pure tax (including public-interest tax stuff), or even a pure criminal-law school, offering other stuff only as necessary to get accreditation, or even going unaccredited since in California that's not such a problem.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | May 20, 2014 9:13:15 PM

The proof is in the pudding: only 3 members out of the UC Irvine class of 2013 went into public interest jobs. 3!!!! (or 4.8 % of the class).

(about 25% of the graduating class of only 84 people, were completely unemployed 9 months after graduation!!).

The law school was sold on a false premise that there was an unmet need for public interest lawyers, (however a study showed that the existing 4 excellent University of California law schools, along with the other many excellent California law schools, like Stanford, USC, San Diego, Loyola L.A, Pepperdine, etc., were meeting those needs).

There was no need for the school. It is a vanity project sold on non-sense, and every one knows it. Irvine graduates are not going into public interest careers in any significant numbers. Chutzpah-rinsy knows it too. What a shame.

Posted by: Anon | May 20, 2014 10:04:26 AM

According to UC government documents, the author's salary started at 350k.

Posted by: Andy Patterson | May 19, 2014 7:31:56 AM

Chemerinsky really is the posterchild of the clueless generation. He talks up all of his lofty public interest goals, and then admits that they might never be realized because the conflict with his status ambitions. That’s the general rule; secure money and status first, and if well-meaning goals fall by the wayside, that’s too bad.

Sadly for Chemerinsky, Irvine will never be a top 20 school. Maybe not even a top 100 school. The employment stats are buffered by huge numbers of federal law clerks, which, I imagine, is some favor that Chemerinsky called in with his contacts on the bench. Even still, there are huge numbers in the unemployed/seeking category. If you are going to pay a huge sum for law school, it is better to attend a school with an established reputation that employers have actually heard of. No reason to attend UCI over Hastings or San Diego. I’d even pay more $ for the latter schools.

This will be a very humbling experience for Chemerinsky. I’m curious if he will stay on the sinking ship, or if he will try to worm back into a top 10 schools where he can once more feel the glow of prestige.

Posted by: JM | May 19, 2014 6:22:21 AM

So the principal goal was to do public interest, but the primary goal was to rank in the top twenty? Am I the only person who sees a contradiction here?

Posted by: michael livingston | May 19, 2014 4:37:11 AM