The UC Irvine Donald Bren School of Law has announced its founding faculty and begun its settlement within existing space at Berkeley Place on the UCI campus.
Both UCI Chancellor Michael Drake and the founding dean of the new law school, Erwin Chemerinsky expressed their general excitement for the law school.
“We are very excited. … We’ve been planning for … years and just got an approval 18 months ago,” Drake said. “Having the law school will bring us a lot of faculty … and form a great bridge to the outside community. We see ourselves as shaping the future of Orange County and beyond … to inspire and empower.”
The new directors that have been announced include Director of Admissions Victoria Ortiz, currently assistant dean of the UC Berkeley law school; Director of Development Charles Cannon, of the UCLA law school; Law Library Director Beatrice Tice, a member of the Univeristy of Toronto Faculty of Law; Assistant Dean of Administration and Finance Rebecca Avila, who is the senior associate dean at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. The director of communications, the fifth senior position for the UCI law school, is still needed, and will be appointed by July 1.
According to Chemerinsky, the administrative team he hired has been described as a “dream team” and will be completed by the end of this academic year.
Official construction of the law school will begin in approximately five to six years. A construction contractor has not yet been found and formal architectural plans have not yet been made, Drake told the New University last week.
“Depending on the project, the construction contractor has not yet been determined,” Drake said. “We are years away from [it]. Meanwhile, there are plans to build using existing space at Berkeley Place and existing classrooms. A new facility will depend on fundraising.”
Although plans to construct the law school have not been set, Chemerinsky said that a plan to build a law library has been underway.
With the “tremendous support” from Drake and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Michael Gottfredson, Chemerinsky shared that he will be staying at UCI until the law school is well on its way.
“I promised the Chancellor that I’ll stay on as dean for 10 years if they’ll have me,” Chemerinsky said. “My goal is [that the] law school will be a top-20 law school in the nation by the time I step down.”
One of the many goals on the law school program’s agenda is to include a semester of clinical experience for its students. According to Chemerinsky, very few law students interact with clients before they graduate.
“Most law students never see clients, and I want to change that,” Chemerinsky said. “By [encouraging] every student to have a clinical experience, we can do a better job.”
The new dean expressed hope for the recruitment of students next year. Chemerinsky hopes to have a full scholarship available for as many students as possible for the entering class as a way of “enticing them to come.”
However, admittance will not be easy. Although Chemerinsky admitted that all the details have not been laid out, the law school will recruit students with high grades, high SAT scores, strong letters of recommendation, great academic achievements and impressive personal statements.
“I want us to be an entering class that’s diverse in every way that reflects many different life experiences of students and many different life aspirations of students,” Chemerinsky said.
The law school is on schedule to open in the fall of 2009 with a class of hopefully 60 students, according to Chemerinsky.
After reviewing over 1,000 full-time faculty applications, seven faculty positions have been filled and will be announced later this spring.
Nonetheless, Chemerinsky’s goal is to continue to hire more members of his teaching staff every year to accommodate each year’s growing class, which is expected to increase to 200 students per entering class after 2009. This way, within five years, the law school hopes to have a total of 600 students.
“The goal will be to hire about six faculty next year and six faculty every year,” Chemerinsky said.
While it appears that Chemerinsky will be extremely busy with structuring the foundation of the law school, he plans to teach a political science class next year and continue working with his own clients on litigation cases outside of the school.
“I certainly hope to do some of what I’m doing,” Chemerinsky said. “I need to put 100 percent into being a dean. … Obviously being a dean for a law school, especially a dean for a new law school, is more than a full-time job.”
Chemerinsky added that he will also continue writing for law reviews as a columnist.
Last fall, controversy erupted when Chancellor Drake fired Chemerinsky from the post of founding dean, allegedly due to concerns that he would be too “polarizing” in the Orange County community, only to publicly apologize and reinstate him into the post less than a week later. Since Drake’s apology, Drake and Chemerinsky have been meeting and communicating regularly to make plans for the law school. Both Drake and Chemerinsky told the New U that they have progressed since the past incident.
“Last year was last year,” Drake said. “We advanced and we’ve been moving forward. I have great respect for the faculty … and I think it’s mutual. I have … held values to make decisions and I think the faculty appreciates it.”
Chemerinsky added that he is very excited about working with Drake and that he would not have accepted the offer if it were not for his respect for the Chancellor.
“That’s now long ago in the past, I wouldn’t have accepted if not for my tremendous affection and respect for Drake … I like him so much,” Chemerinsky said. “I understand that this is a honeymoon affiliate. Everybody has been totally supportive of the law school … with no major disagreements about the law school. Hopefully it will be a very long honeymoon.”
Prior to his appointment as founding dean, Erwin Chemerinsky served as a Duke University professor of law since 2004 and a former Sydney M. Irmas Professor of Public Interest Law, Legal Ethics and Political Science at USC as well as a former professor at DePaul College of Law from 1980-83. He is the author of four books and over 100 law review articles (from Harvard, Northwestern, Michigan, Yale, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford and Yale law reviews and journals). In addition, Chemerinsky is a local media commentator on legal topics and a columnist on the Supreme Court for distinguished magazines and journals.