Fulfilling a Plan

The University of California, Irvine School of Law opened in August 2009 as the first new public law school in California in more than 40 years. Since the inception of the University of California, Irvine, which celebrated its 50th birthday in 2015, a law school was envisioned as part of the plan to become a full-service, interdisciplinary research institution.

Origins of the School

After earlier efforts to start a new law school in Irvine, the UC Board of Regents approved a plan for the University of California, Irvine School of Law in November 2006.

A gift of $20 million in August 2007 from business leader and philanthropist Donald Bren—a longtime visionary donor to the University of California, Irvine—provided the financial wherewithal to help quickly bring to fruition UCI’s goal of creating a top-tier law school. “This gift provides tremendous momentum for our new Law School,” said UCI Chancellor Michael V. Drake, M.D. “The endowment will help us attract renowned legal scholars who will educate future leaders, serve the Orange County community, and help our university quickly ascend the ranks of leading law schools in the country.”

In fall 2007, nationally renowned professor of constitutional law and federal civil procedure Erwin Chemerinsky was named founding dean, effective July 1, 2008. Chemerinsky had been the Alston & Bird Professor of Law and professor of political science at Duke University since 2004. Previously he was the Sidney M. Irmas Professor of Public Interest Law, Legal Ethics & Political Science at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law for 21 years. The school opened its doors to its first class of 60 law students on August 24, 2009.

Further Reading: UCI Law: The First Half Century, by Joseph F.C. DiMento

View a historical timeline chronicling the origins and accomplishments of UCI Law.

Call for Change

UCI Law had the opportunity and mission of creating the ideal law school for the 21st century. We achieved this by aiming to do the best job in the country of training students for the practice of law at the highest levels of the legal profession. The profession today demands lawyer preparation that effectively integrates the traditional teaching of legal doctrine with the development of real-world practice skills. With our blank canvas, and faculty recruited from top-tier law schools around the country, UCI Law built a new school that is relevant to law practice and legal scholarship in the 21st century and that pushes the frontiers of the profession.

The Association of American Law Schools, practicing attorneys and judges, law school deans and faculty, journalists and scholars continued to call for dramatic new models for the preparation of lawyers for the practice of law. But changing ingrained and longstanding approaches is a daunting proposition for even the best law schools. Our founding faculty came from those leading institutions and were attracted to the UCI Law in large part because of our clean slate and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to rethink and transform legal education.

Further Reading: The Ideal Law School for the 21st Century, by Erwin Chemerinsky

Making History

Most of the 18 founding faculty and senior administrators, which Dean Chemerinsky dubbed his “Dream Team,” arrived in the summer of 2008. This gave the school a full year to plan a curriculum and develop policies before the school opened to students in August 2009. From the very start, the Law School has enjoyed tremendous support from UCI Chancellors, the campus, and the legal and business communities.

Within a few short years, UCI Law was already making history. The law faculty has been ranked four times among the best in the country in terms of scholarly impact, most recently coming in 12th.

  • The Inaugural Class of 2012 passed the California bar at a rate of 90 percent, second only to Stanford among state law schools.
  • The Class of 2012 was also ranked in the top 20 of The National Law Journal’s list of Go-To Law Schools, which measured percentage of students obtaining jobs at the nation’s 250 largest law firms.
  • The class also ranked 11th in percentage of students in full-time law jobs, according to The National Law Journal.
  • And the class was second in the country behind only Yale in the percentage of students landing federal judicial clerkships, according to The National Law Journal.


The Law School has 48 full-time faculty members and 420 students. The Law School ranks highly and receives tremendous accolades. 

Some national accolades include:

  • A 2021 study by the University of St. Thomas School of Law measured the scholarly impact of law school faculties, ranking UCI Law No. 14 in the nation.
  • In the National Jurist 2021 list of Best Schools for Practical Training, UCI Law ranked No. 9 overall with an A+ grade, one of only 17 law schools nationally to receive top honors.
  • UCI Law ranks No. 26 in the nation for federal clerkships, and No. 3 among California law schools.
  • In the 2016 Law School Survey of Student Engagement, the vast majority of our students rated their entire educational experience as “Excellent,” far exceeding our peer schools and the national average.