Visions of Change

Occasional Notes from the Dean

What Makes UCI Law Different?

From the outset the goal has been that UCI Law would be in the top 20 of American law schools by every measure. Our faculty and students are definitely of this caliber. There are, however, many excellent law schools in the United States. What makes us different?

First, we strongly emphasize preparing students for the practice of law at the highest levels of the profession. Every study of legal education has lamented the failure of law schools to prepare students to be lawyers. We have redesigned the curriculum to be different in this regard. For example, all students must participate in a legal clinic as a graduation requirement in which they provide legal services under the direction of a faculty member. In fact, the clinical experience begins in the first year when all students as a part of their Lawyering Skills class must go to the public defender’s office or a legal services office and do in-take interviews of prospective clients.

Another example is an innovative first-year course on the Legal Profession where all students learn about professional ethics and also about the economics, sociology, and psychology of the profession. Throughout the first-year and upper-level curriculum there is great emphasis on incorporating skills training into traditional classes. At the same time, the Law School is highly interdisciplinary, with faculty with joint appointments in many other departments on campus and many students pursuing dual degrees. Many employers already have remarked that UCI Law students are the best that they have seen.

Second, we are creating a community of faculty, staff, and students united by the common desire to create a very special Law School. Integral to this is the small size of the school. In 2011-12, there will be approximately 59 third-year students, 83 second-year students, and about 100 first-year students. First-year students will have almost all their classes in groups of 25 or 33 or 50. Many upper-level classes are under 10 students.

The small size of the school maximizes the opportunity for interaction between students and faculty. It is a school that strongly emphasizes high-quality teaching. The small size also allows us to work with each individual student to find the career path that is best for him or her. All of the class of 2012 and all of the class of 2013 were employed in the summer of 2011, including many at the most prestigious law firms and public interest offices. Already, a number of students in the class of 2012 have obtained prestigious federal judicial clerkships for after graduation.

The atmosphere of the school is warm and collegial. Everyone – faculty, staff, and students – has the chance to play a key role in shaping the school. The students have created numerous organizations, many of which don’t exist at other law schools.

Third, the school is deeply committed to encouraging our students to do public service work. The Law School has a vibrant pro bono program of placing law students in pro bono opportunities. In 2010-11, 92% of all of the first-year students did pro bono work. In the summers of 2010 and 2011, every student doing public service work received a stipend to help provide compensation.

Like any skill, practicing law is best learned by doing it. The pro bono and clinical opportunities provide a terrific opportunity for our students to do good and also learn a great deal from the experience.

Our goal is to create the ideal law school for the 21st century and we believe that is exactly our path as we begin our third year of having students in the fall of 2011. We believe that we are creating a law school like no other.

June 22, 2011

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