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