Latest in the Law School

Jason Davis | Staff Photographer

The UC Irvine School of Law is a year into its trial and, while the jury is still out, there have been no objections thus far.

In a move that was planned from day one, the law school announced on Oct. 21 that each member of its third incoming class will receive at least a one-third scholarship for all three years of law school. Like the full scholarships for the initial class and the half scholarships for this year’s class, the scholarship money is funded completely by private donations.

With tuition in the fall of 2011 expected to be about $40,000 for in-state students and $50,000 out of state, the donations, headed by Mark P. Robinson Jr., chair of the Dean’s Advisory Council and senior partner at Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson Inc., will undoubtedly help alleviate the burden of student debt after school.

“State subsidy for professional school is much less [than years past], so the burden is on the professional schools largely through tuition dollars,” Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said. “Thankfully, we’ve had good support from especially the OC business and legal community … but we need to work harder to raise even more.”

Due in large part to the full scholarships for the entire first incoming class of 60 students, UCI was able to boast a four percent acceptance rate, the best in the country. The second year incoming class had an acceptance rate of 17.7 percent, with the number of applicants falling in large part due to an earlier deadline and shortened application period, according to Dean of Students & Acting Director of Admissions Elizabeth Schroeder. Another potential reason is the decrease in publicity that the 2010 class received in comparison to the inaugural class. Luckily, the quality in the second class of 83 students has not gone down despite the decreased scholarships.

“By the numbers like LSAT and GPA, they’re just as strong,” said Chemerinsky, who teaches all of the first year students in the spring. “I think we are really lucky to keep the quality of the students while expanding the size of the class, while decreasing the amount of across-the-board scholarships. I’m very pleased.”

One of the key remaining hurdles in UCI law’s validation process is its American Bar Association accreditation. The school recently checked off another positive step towards an expected spring 2011 provisional accreditation.

“The key step was the visit by the six person accreditation team, and they could not have been more glowing or effusive in their praise,” Chemerinsky said. “It was a relief; we have no concerns now in regards to accreditation, it was also great to have people outside the law school come look at us and say such wonderful things. We’ve always been very cautious to dot every I and cross every T, but everything is very much on track.”

All in all, UCI’s expected class of 100 students has a promising future in Irvine. The school currently boasts the best faculty-student ratio of any law school in the country and aims to keep that statistic up, despite the increase in students.

“We have terrific students who are in the top 20 of all law schools in the country, we have wonderful faculty, expanding size of students, and we’re hiring more faculty,” Chemerinsky said. “So many people at law schools around the country keep saying that UCI law school is the most exciting thing today in legal education.”

Everyday remains a step into unexplored territory for UCI law. As this is the first year the school has hosted second-year students, the entire curriculum for their year is new. In addition, Chemerinsky and his faculty have gone past the normal bounds of law school and emphasized real-world work and interdisciplinary studies with other schools on campus. Seven professors around campus also teach at the law school.

“We’ve developed an innovative curriculum; we’re taking advantage of the blank slate we have as a new law school,” Chemerinsky said. “We require all students to serve in a clinic, even in their first year; students have to go do intake interviews, either legal aid or public defenders of respective clients, so in their first year they’re making contact with clients.”

With an eventual goal and cap of 200 students per class, which Dean Chemerinsky estimated will take three to five years, new student organizations are already springing up. This includes standard law school groups like Moot Court and the UC Irvine Law Review, as well as more specialized groups such as The Federalist Society and UCI Law Creative Arts Advocates. Obviously, the leadership opportunities for students abound.

“I truly believe that [UC Irvine] is the best place in the country for a legal education,” Chemerinsky said. “We have a chance to create the ideal law school. We’re limited only by our imaginations.”