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Courtesy of UCI School of Law
Courtesy of UCI School of Law

Dean Chermerinsky will continue teaching his regular courses as he assumes his new position.

Founding Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, Erwin Chemerinsky, is now the Chair of the new First Amendment Law program at the UC Irvine School of Law.

Raymond Pryke, owner and publisher of Valleywide Newspapers based in San Bernardino, donated $1.5 million to UCI to begin the program in February. Chemerinsky’s work will focus on the First Amendment and media law, teaching students about the role of free press in preserving a democratic society.

Into his second month of this new position, Chemerinsky invited prominent media and entertainment lawyer Kelli Sager to be the featured speaker at the annual Raymond Pryke First Amendment Law Lecture on March 18.

Sager is one of the country’s leading First Amendment lawyers, with 27 years of experience in representing media — from television companies to book authors.

“Ms. Sager is one of the leading First Amendment lawyers in the country. We are delighted to have her speaking at UCI,” Chemerinsky said.

A graduate of Harvard Law, Chemerinsky found his passion in teaching, and is now an experienced commentator on legal issues for national and local media.

“The best part of my job is teaching. I love it as much today as when I began 30 years ago,” Chemerinsky said.

Chemerinsky has taught at USC and Duke University, and has also taught as a visiting lecturer at UCLA. While teaching at Duke University, he won the Duke University Scholar-Teacher of the Year Award in 2006.

The UC Irvine’s new School of Law was founded in 2009, after the Donald Bren Foundation’s $20 million donation put years of planning into action — Chemerinsky was named dean shortly thereafter.

“I was thrilled to have the chance to be the founding dean and to be part of creating an outstanding law school,” Chemerinsky said.

At 60 percent of the school’s projected student body, the law school is still growing.

“We will continue to emphasize experiential learning, great teaching and outstanding scholarship by our faculty,” Chemerinsky said.

“Our goal is to provide them a terrific education that prepares them for the practice of law at the highest levels of the profession.”

To provide hands-on learning based on what the students learn in small classes, the law school provides a mentoring program featuring Southern California lawyers to give real-world advice about their own law professions. Students in the program shadow lawyers and volunteer for in the field experience as part of the law school’s requirement for public service.

Southern California lawyers now fill up a waiting list for the chance to share their experience with UC Irvine’s law students.

In addition to the mentor program, the school’s pro-bono program gives students the chance to provide legal services to underrepresented individuals in their own community.

Ninety-eight percent of the 2012 inaugural class reached the 120-hour requirement over three years of pro-bono work. These students also achieved a 90 percent pass rate for the California Bar exam in January 2013, ranking UC Irvine’s School of Law second in the state after Stanford University.

The First Amendment — respecting the freedom of religion, speech, press and the right to peaceably assemble and petition the government — is an important source for finding the answers to making an inclusive environment on campus. Chemerinsky is hopeful that the First Amendment Law position at UC Irvine will research and teach the dynamics of possible solutions.

“There are always difficult issues of free speech on college campuses. I expect our programs will include topics about that,” Chemerinsky said.

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