Visions of Change

Occasional Notes from the Dean

We Are Off to a Wonderful Start!

The University of California, Irvine School of Law has begun! Wednesday morning, August 19, 61 students began orientation. Classes started that afternoon with the first meeting of the Lawyering Skills course. The semester officially begins on Monday, August 24.

It is impossible to put into words the excitement among the students, faculty, administrators and staff over the beginning of school. So many individuals have worked for years to create the Law School, and it is off to a wonderful start. Our goal was to begin with 60 students and we have 61 terrific first-year law students. They are incredibly impressive with a median LSAT and GPA that put them in the top 15 entering classes in the country. They come not only with stunning credentials, but also have a wealth of experience in a wide array of fields.

We begin with 18 full-time faculty and four faculty from other schools on campus with joint appointments. This, of course, gives us the best student-faculty ratio of any law school in the country. Students will have most classes in groups of 20 or 30 this year.

We created a unique orientation program for our students that very much reflects who we are as a law school. A substantial focus of the orientation program is the beginning of the Lawyering Skills course. This is a two-semester, six-unit class that will focus on students receiving instruction in the skills that all lawyers use.

For the orientation program, students worked on a problem concerning the constitutional right to counsel in a civil proceeding involving an anti-gang injunction. In part, it is to have students begin considering issues of access to justice from literally their first day of law school. On Wednesday, students received the problem and two U.S. Supreme Court cases to read and analyze.

On Thursday, the students met in their Lawyering Skills sections to discuss the cases and deal with the problem presented. At lunch on Thursday, retired California Court of Appeal Justice Earl Johnson, a leader in the access to justice movement, spoke to the students about the problems with ensuring adequate representation and access to justice. On Thursday night, the students and their families watched the movie “Gideon’s Trumpet,” about the landmark Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright, one of the two cases assigned to the students. Popcorn was provided!

On Friday morning, students again met in their Lawyering Skills classes to construct arguments and approaches to the problem. This was followed by their observing two outstanding lawyers – Mark Robinson and Anne Richardson – argue the problem in front of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Richard Paez. At lunch on Friday, Professor Rachel Moran spoke with the students about the role of the lawyer as a citizen in a larger society. On Friday afternoon, the program concluded with a moving address by California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno.

The orientation program also included other events to introduce our new students to the culture of the Law School. On Wednesday, there was a luncheon at which our students met their attorney mentors. Each law student is assigned two attorney mentors. One of these is a relatively recent law graduate who will play the role traditionally occupied by second- and third-year law students in advising the students. The other is a more experienced lawyer. We are requiring that our students spend at least 25 hours observing their attorney mentors at work to get a real sense of what lawyers actually do.

At the lunch on Wednesday, students also heard inspirational words from UCI Chancellor Michael Drake and UCI Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Michael Gottfredson. These two individuals worked tirelessly to create UCI Law School and they enthusiastically welcomed the Inaugural Class. Students were given a “civility oath” by U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford, and were welcomed to the community by Mark Robinson, a prominent lawyer and Chair of the Law School’s Dean’s Advisory Council.

Orientation also has involved students seeing the Law School’s facilities. The highlight undoubtedly has been the library tour, where students get to see the magnificent, just-completed Law Library. There also was a panel discussion of faculty teaching in the first year to help prepare students for classes, and a presentation on the wonderful information technology resources available to the students.

The Law School prides itself on being warm, student-friendly and supportive. We kicked off orientation on Tuesday night with a picnic in Aldrich Park on campus, to which all students and their families — along with all faculty and staff and their families — were invited. Orientation concluded on Friday night with a dinner at my home.

It was a wonderful beginning to the school, but most important, to these students’ legal education. The orientation was able to convey much about who were are as a school: focused on preparing them to practice law at the highest levels of the profession; concerned about how to solve the problems in the legal system that affect people’s lives; and committed to providing our students a legal education in a warm and supportive environment.

After decades of anticipation and years of planning, the University of California, Irvine School of Law has begun. It could not be off to a better start.

Aug. 21, 2009

Erwin Chemerinsky
Founding Dean and Distinguished Professor
University of California, Irvine School of Law