UCI Law School has promised prospective students of its second entering class, which will begin next fall, a half-tuition scholarship for all three years of the class’s tenure.
Administrators hope that student scholarships, which have been funded entirely by private donations, will serve to lessen the concerns of prospective students considering a brand new and relatively unestablished law school.
A similar strategy was employed last year, when perspective students were successfully enticed by the prospect of full-ride scholarships. Approximately 2500 applicants vied for only 60 spots. The flood of applications allowed the creation of an inaugural class with a GPA and LSAT average comparable to those of law schools among the top 20 in the nation and also made UCI the most selective law school in the country.
The law school’s announcement to again provide significant scholarships for prospective students came at the end of an eventful first semester, in which the inaugural class, alongside faculty, worked actively to put into place the essential elements of the law school.
According to Charles Cannon, Assistant Dean of Development and External Affairs for UCI law, the law review is currently being organized and the first issue is expected to come out in winter of 2011. It will contain papers that are scheduled to be presented at two conferences later this year; the first, a conference at UCI for patent law reform, is scheduled on Jan. 22.
Students have also taken steps to create an identity for student life on the law school campus. The administration has already been informed by students of seven new clubs on campus, Cannon said.
A lack of second and third years has not created many complications, thanks to a program instituted last semester when administrators recognized that UCI’s first law class would lack the advice first-year students at other law schools traditionally receive from upperclassmen. As a result, a mentor program was developed and successfully implemented in the fall semester.
According to Cannon, so many local attorneys demonstrated interest in acting as mentors that every student was paired with two. Rex Bossert, Assistant Dean for Communications and Public Affairs for UCI law, said that students were assigned mentors based on their legal interests and that mentors have provided students with a window into the legal world.
While certain aspects of UCI law have started to resemble those of a traditional law school, some of the law school’s development during its first semester reveals innovation.
For example, the law school has already started to establish an international presence, with its Korean Law Center that will operate through UCI extension. The center was established in collaboration with two universities in Seoul, South Korea.
It will facilitate a certificate program that includes a thorough study of U.S. law with a comparative study in Korean Law. The law center is part of the new UC Irvine International Law & Business Institute. Similar collaborations are being developed with universities in Spain and China.
The law school also has plans to introduce a clinical program for students so that the more practical aspects of legal education are not ignored to focus on merely the theoretical, a common fault of many law schools according to Dean of UCI Law Erwin Chemerinsky.
“It is so important that [students] have contact with clients; that law school not be – as it usually is – purely academic,” Chemerinsky said, “It is a tremendous grounding in reality. The skills that [students] have learned as first years – how to spot issues, how to assess and summarize facts, as well as the skill of interviewing- they can use.”
Though students will not take part in clinics until their third year, this semester they will start volunteering for organizations such as Legal Aid and the Offices of the Public Defender by completing intake interviews in order to find perspective clients for these organizations.
Despite the law school’s accomplishments, it still has several obstacles to overcome. Chief among them is the issue of accreditation, which is a five-year process. Nonetheless, UCI law will in all likelihood receive provisional accreditation by the end of the first class’s second year, which would allow graduates to take the bar exam in any state.
Fundraising is another issue of continuing importance. The $20 million donation from Irvine Company Chairman Donald Bren in 2008 provided funds for endowed faculty chairs, but donations are still being sought for student scholarships.
According to Chemerinsky, the law school is continuing to “aggressively” pursue funds for this end, and a donation of $400,000 for students’ scholarships was received in December from local trial lawyer Mark Robinson, who previously donated $1 million to the law school last year.
“We have made amazing progress. At this point, we have 18 full-time faculty members. We have wonderful facilities. We have just finished our first semester in which we taught 60 students. We exist,” Chemerinsky said, “Everyday I become more secure in the likelihood of our success, but we still have a long way to go. “