Visions of Change

Occasional Notes from the Dean during Startup

A Vision for Change

I am incredibly excited to be the founding dean of the new law school at the University of California, Irvine. As I recruit faculty, administrators, and students, I ask them to come be part of creating our dream law school. We have the chance to build something very special: the ideal law school for the 21st century. In every way, and by every measure, we will be one of the top law schools in the country. But if we simply replicate other top schools, we will have squandered our wonderful opportunity.

My vision for the law school starts with bringing together the very best faculty, administrators and students. I believe that our founding faculty and administrators are equal to that at any law school in the country. A quick perusal of their profiles reveals that each is a superstar in his or her field. A law school has three missions: training lawyers, advancing knowledge through scholarship, and providing service to the bar and society. I am absolutely convinced that we can do all three as well, or better, than any law school in the country.

First, we can do a better job of preparing lawyers for the practice of law. There are many facets to this. At the University of California, Irvine School of Law every student will have a clinical experience or the equivalent. It would be unthinkable to have a medical school where medical students never see a patient. But at most law schools, only a relatively small percentage of students ever participate in a clinic and get hands-on experience working with actual clients, helping them solve real legal problems. At this law school, every student will have supervised opportunities to learn by doing.

The traditional first-year legal writing course will be reoriented as a course on lawyering skills. To pick one example, part of the course should teach fact investigation, a crucial skill that is all too often ignored in law schools. Also, I have proposed that the faculty develop a two-week course at the beginning of the second semester where students take a class on contract drafting or negotiation or trial practice so that skills training is part of the first year. The upper-level curriculum will include skills classes that prepare students for the top level of practice in areas such as business law, intellectual property and litigation.

Second, we will be an interdisciplinary law school, where faculty and students are engaged in work at the very cutting edge of legal scholarship and legal practice. Law is inherently shaped by other disciplines. For example, attorneys in many areas of business and tax practice need to know law and economics. Lawyers practicing criminal law often need to know about law and psychology. These interdisciplinary perspectives should be integrated into the law school curriculum and also undoubtedly will be a part of the scholarship of many faculty members.

This interdisciplinary orientation will better prepare students for the practice of law. For example, we plan to create an intellectual property clinic where a law student is paired with a business student and an engineering student and together they will develop a plan for the development and marketing of an undeveloped patent. Similarly, we are discussing creation of a small business clinic where a law student and a business student are paired to provide assistance to a small business.

Third, the law school will emphasize public service. Every lawyer has the obligation to use his or her talents to help individuals and make society better. Throughout law school, students will have the opportunity and be encouraged to use their legal knowledge and skills in public service. The law school will also have one of the most generous loan-forgiveness programs to ensure that those graduates who wish to pursue a career in public interest law are not precluded by student loan debt.

I truly believe that our students will receive a legal education as good as any in the country. With an entering first year class of about 60 students and a founding faculty of between 15-20 professors, our classes will be small and have the best student/faculty ratio of any school in the country. The founding faculty are all at the very top of their field, but first and foremost, they are all excellent teachers.

Coming to the University of California, Irvine School of Law offers something unique: the chance to be part of creating an institution that will exist long beyond any of our careers or lives. The students will be full partners in developing the structures and traditions of the law school.

We have the chance to dream and build together. That is what attracted me to be the founding dean and I tremendously look forward to putting those dreams into operation with a stellar faculty and administrative team, founding students, and generous and enthusiastic supporters.

Sept. 1, 2008

Erwin Chemerinsky
Founding Dean
University of California, Irvine School of Law