California Bar Journal
CBJ - October 2009 #01.
UC Irvine offers a new approach to law school
California Bar JournalOctober 2009UC Irvine offers a new approach to law schoolBy Diane CurtisStaff WriterWhen then-Duke University law professor Erwin Chemerinsky got a call from a fellow academic broaching the possibility of heading a new University of California law school, the renowned constitutional scholar had a mixed reaction: skepticism and intrigue.
The country didn't really need another law school, he thought, unless - and it was a big unless - it were a truly different kind of law school, one that combined scholarship and practicality with a 21st century respect for international collaboration, public interest law and interdisciplinary work. "If we simply replicate existing law schools, we will have failed," says Chemerinsky. "When I graduated from law school, I wasn't ready to practice law."
With little to lose since he was happy in his job at Duke, he laid out his nontraditional vision for this new brand of law school and, to his surprise and delight, got the go-ahead to make that vision a reality as founding dean of the UC-Irvine School of Law, the first law school to be created at a UC campus since the Davis law school opened in 1966.
Chemerinsky's leadership did not start auspiciously. Shortly after asking Chemerinsky to be dean, UC-Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake rescinded the offer. He then reinstated it after an outcry from faculty, students and others about academic freedom. Chemerinsky, a liberal who has taught at the nation's top law schools for 30 years and was named one of the top 20 legal thinkers in America by Legal Affairs magazine, said he was told by Drake that he was "too politically controversial." Drake said he made a "management decision - not an ideological or political one." But the two have put the past behind them, and on Aug. 19, Dean Chemerinsky welcomed the first class of 61 students, all of whom are guaranteed free tuition for their three years of law school. The dean had personally called every new student after they had been accepted.
"It's exceeding whatever I could have dreamed of for the beginning of school," Chemerinsky says. "We exist now. We're not an idea. We're a reality."
The reality is a student body with impressive undergraduate pedigrees and a median LSAT and GPA...