Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of UC Irvine’s new law school, announced his chosen founding faculty and senior administrators on July 10. At top-20-caliber, the school is expected to redefine legal education for the 21st century.
Chemerinsky’s dedication to meetings, conventions and surrounding law firms has paid off in garnering support for the new program. Charles Cannon, Assistant Dean of Development and External Affairs, discussed how the time spent developing support for the law school has generated finances.
“Private gifts, already in excess of $24 million, make all the difference between a decent and a top-tier institution. The value of these local contributions and resources cannot be overstated. Our earliest supporters are the true founders of our school,” Cannon said.
Officially, 18 professionals have been accepted into the ranks of the school’s founding faculty from diverse backgrounds in law. Rex Bossert, the Director of Communications and Public Affairs, was the former editor-in-chief of The National Law Journal and has been a legal affairs journalist for 20 years. Dan L. Burk, formerly a professor at the Minnesota Law School, is an intellectual property law expert specializing in cyber law and biotechnology. Joseph F.C. DiMento is a professor of planning, policy and design at UCI and a director of the Newkirk Center for Science and Society.
“My style is to push and encourage students to learn so that they can be effective with words and with the law,” DiMento said.
The UCI School of Law’s August 2009 opening date allocates time for the founding faculty to structure and plan out a brand new curriculum for the incoming students. With an entering first year class of about 60 students and a faculty of roughly 15-20, the school of law will have an unprecedented student to faculty ratio. Class size is planned to remain small even as the school and faculty grow over the years.
Chemerinsky’s main concern is giving students the opportunity for experience.
“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,” Chemerinsky said.
The school also hopes to advocate public service careers.
“Every lawyer has the obligation to use his or her talents to help individuals and society,” Chemerinsky said.
As entry-level salaries are always a concern, graduates will be provided with opportunities to take advantage of a generous loan forgiveness program in order to encourage careers in public service.
Students will gain real-world experience through UCI’s clinical and pro bono programs, providing legal assistance to community members who would otherwise not be able to afford an attorney. The categories of law to be practiced through these programs have not yet been determined.
Students will have the opportunity to earn the juris doctorate degree. Dual degrees may also be available. Students can augment their law education with business, medical and other programs, with combined degrees ranging from M.D., M.B.A., M.P.H. and Ph.D.’s for a variety of disciplines. Future plans to add master of laws and doctor of the science of law are also in motion.
Interdisciplinary students can also expect to be engaged in hands-on work in addition to research: for example, law, business and engineering students will be paired in an Intellectual Property clinic to collaborate on the development and marketing of a patent.
Specializations are currently under discussion as the law school is still in the startup phase. However, the staff anticipates that they will include such offerings as environmental law, intellectual property law and public interest and social justice.
The school recognizes the need for scholarships and intends to fund many full-tuition scholarships for incoming students. Law-firm and individual donor gifts have already established a significant number of $100,000 three-year scholarships. As of yet, the law school is not able to offer admission to transfer students and cannot accommodate part-time students. The 2009 inaugural curriculum will include only first year courses. Tuition costs will be competitive to other UC law schools.
Students attending the law school during the time of provisional accreditation will receive the same recognition as students who graduate from a fully accredited school. Chemerinsky plans to apply for accreditation in the school’s second year and hopes to be provisionally accredited by that year’s end.
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