UC Irvine School of Law?
March 16, 2009 1:51 PM   Subscribe

I've been accepted to the inaugural class of the UC Irvine School of Law. What's your opinion of UCI and how should I weigh going there over other top-25 law schools?

I applied law school and have to decide where to give my seat deposit by April 15th. One of the schools I've been accepted to is the UC Irvine School of Law; I'd be in its inaugural class. I'm deciding between attending Irvine and a few other top-25 schools.

Attending a yet-to-be accredited law school which doesn't have an alumni network to help with the job search once I graduate, etc., seems like a very risky move. UCI by all accounts seems poised to be an excellent law school. Although it won't open its doors till the fall, it's already been ranked 10th in the nation in terms of Faculty Scholarly Impact and, as an incentive to draw top students, is giving everyone in the inaugural class a free ride. When they're ranked by US News (next year, I guess), they expect, they say, to be rated in the top 20 law schools.

The other schools I'm considering (currently Emory and Fordham are at the top of my list) aren't offering me any money.

I know there are a lot of lawyers and law school students around here. I've very curious to hear opinions about UCI. What would you do in my situation?

Throwaway email address: UCILawQuestion@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Education (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Free ride? That sounds pretty good. Do you have to graduate, or if it does not seem like it will turn out like they project can you bail out after a year, in which case all you lose is a year's time and perhaps lost wages and even then if you transfer some schools might even accept the credits.
posted by caddis at 1:57 PM on March 16, 2009

When they're ranked by US News (next year, I guess), they expect, they say, to be rated in the top 20 law schools.

If they actually say that, they are lying. It will not be a Top 20 law school immediately. It won't even be accredited for 3 - 5 years. I doubt that there is even an unaccredited law school in the USNes Top 100. So slow down and take the information they are giving you with a grain of salt.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 1:58 PM on March 16, 2009

The legal job market is a bloodbath right now, and it likely won't be a whole lot better when you graduate. Go to the highest-ranked school that you are accepted to and can afford. I have high hopes for the UCI law school - but this is not the time, yet.
posted by The World Famous at 1:59 PM on March 16, 2009

I second the world famous and would add that some states will not allow individuals who graduate from unaccredited law schools to sit for their bar exams. So you'd better love the state you go to school in. . .
posted by inkyr2 at 2:03 PM on March 16, 2009

If you plan on practicing in southern california when you graduate, I'd say go with UCI. A free ride will allow you a lot of freedom when you graduate, since you won't have to worry about making loan payments.

It's true you won't have the alumni network to work with, but UCI is located near enough to LA that you can drive up to attend various LA Bar Association events and network on your own.

The school is supposed to be accredited by the time you graduate, but if for some reason it isn't, you can still take the CA Bar.

If you plan on practicing somewhere that isn't in CA, go to the best ranked school you can get into. If UCI doesn't get accredited by the time you graduate, you may not be able to take the bar in the state you want to work in. UCI should be a great school, and I'm sure you'll get a decent education. If you want to work locally, and arn't planning on entering BIGLAW, a free ride at UCI is perfect.
posted by Arbac at 2:06 PM on March 16, 2009

The alumni network isn't a big factor in getting a post-graduation job. The reputation of the law school is a huge one, particularly in this economy. Do not let spin from the Admissions office convince you otherwise.

(And for the record, a law student from a Top 25 law school should have his/her post-graduation job locked down long before second semester of 3L year rolls around, let alone graduation. If you're planning on going for one of the big law firms, in fact, you should be interviewing for the summer job that is the teaser course for your post-graduation job after 1L year and before 2L year. That's why 1L grades are crucial.)
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:13 PM on March 16, 2009

As has been said, graduating from law school without debts would be wonderful. UCI is part of a state system, which means it's not some fly-by-night law school that is very likely to disappear without warning. And to those who've used his treatises, Chemerinsky is a god who can do anything. All that said, the economy is bad and the state of California isn't doing so hot moneywise. We can be close to 100% sure that Fordham and Emory will exist as functional law schools by the time you graduate. I don't know enough specifics to know what the number is for UCI, but it's not as close to 100 as those others.
posted by Xalf at 3:09 PM on March 16, 2009

FREE RIDE. FREE RIDE! Its a UC school (good stuff), and as long as it doesnt become like the shitty law schools in cali (I would like to point out to the uppity that these are PRIVATE schools), I would say "awesome".

Congratulations, and awesome!
posted by hal_c_on at 3:17 PM on March 16, 2009

Wow, didn't realize it was yet-to-be-accredited.

I've been wondering about this myself. Law school admit boards teem with UC Irvine worship. Considering the obscene $32K tuition charged by the other UCs (in a state which was once legendary for affordable public education), there's something appealing and honorable about a free law degree, especially if it has the prestigious ring of the University of California, plus a dean who wrote the book on constitutional law. And especially if you've ruled out the big law firm lifestyle.

The consensus from my lawyer dad and friends was: If you can't get into UC Hastings and UC Davis, and it comes down to a choice between Irvine and Santa Clara or Lewis & Clark, give Irvine a try. But if you do get into UC Hastings, go there. I got into Hastings so I think I'm gonna go there. But am still a little enchanted by Irvine's prospect of not having $150K in student loans when I get out.

I have the feeling that the pressure will be on Chemerinsky and his people to make sure his first graduating class ends up with good jobs. It's a brave new experiment and that's kind of cool. On the other hand, as the survivor of the University of California journalism school, which was similarly tinged with talk of brave new experiments, I just don't know if cool deans and experiments are good enough guarantees, so I want to take a more conservative path.

Also, not so sure about this alumni network thing. I gather there are lots of people who get their jobs by phoning up the alumni and being like "what's up?" but my lawyer best bud got his just by being stone cold good at what he did during his summers at a poverty law office.

But wait, UCI hopes to get into the top 20? Past Hastings and Davis? Are you sure they don't mean the Thomas Cooley School of Law's top 20, and not US News's? Just kidding, of course -- obviously if they do turn out to be that awesome, that would be great.
posted by Kirklander at 3:37 PM on March 16, 2009

Another point to add to The World Famous' post: Much of getting yourself in the door in legal hiring is based on two factors: reputation and connections. As to the former, you'll be an unknown commodity, which puts you at a disadvantage. When your resume hits the screeners' desks, there will be no fond thoughts of a previous colleague who came from your school to benefit from. There will be no recognition of your school's ability to turn out A-class judicial clerks, associates, or prosecutors. This will make it harder for your law school to leap off the page of your resume.

As to the latter, there's a good bit of continuity from one "generation" of lawyers to another in the job market. Partners from UCLA law will likely be more inclined to hire UCLA associates. Judges from Stanford are probably more likely to hire Stanford clerks. U.S. Attorney's Office interviewers from Boalt may well be slightly more favorably disposed towards Boalt applicants. At the very least, having contacts in elite jobs will help you to know where to look and how to proceed when it comes time for you to step out in the cold, harsh world of the legal job market.

Look at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston. It closed from 1956-1968. When it reopened, its new graduates had no one to network with in the middle echelons of area law firms, DA's offices, and other institutions. I can only assume that put them at a major disadvantage, especially when competing against graduates from Boston College and Boston University (to say nothing of Harvard) who had those resources.

Bottom line is, you'll be at a significant disadvantage coming from a school that can't trade on its name and reputation. This is especially true if you want to try for elite jobs like the DOJ Honors Program, federal clerkships, or top-shelf big law firms. Is it still possible to get there from UCI? Probably. But I expect it'll be much harder than if you can rely on a "name brand" school.
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 3:39 PM on March 16, 2009

You're in a strange predicament. All indications are that UCI is going to be a powerhouse law school, and you can expect it to be a shoo-in for accreditation and high ranking, but I understand your misgivings about attending a school not yet accredited.

It's a tough call. It's something of a risk, but at the same time, it would be exciting to be in the first graduating class of a major law school.
posted by jayder at 3:40 PM on March 16, 2009

When they're ranked by US News (next year, I guess), they expect, they say, to be rated in the top 20 law schools.

I agree with the poster above who thinks that this is a crock. UCI law school is going to be a complete unknown in terms of ranking and reputation for at least a few years, as well as having no alumni network whatsoever. I suppose they can buy their way into the rankings to a certain extent by being extremely selective in terms of GPA and LSAT score, but there are other factors that are essentially arbitrary (e.g. reputation among profs at other schools) and/or are entirely lacking data (e.g. bar passage rate, percent employed a year after graduation).

Anyway, a free legal education is nothing to sneeze at, but if they are simply assuming that they will automatically jump in to the top 25... well, they might have another thing coming, is all I'm saying.

Then again none of the schools you're considering is really nationally prominent, so I would be a bit geographically bound if I were you. If you want to work in Atlanda, go to Emory; New York, Fordham. But if you want to work in Southern California, UCI might work for you regardless of the ranking.
posted by rkent at 4:15 PM on March 16, 2009

AtlanTa, I mean... sheesh.
posted by rkent at 4:16 PM on March 16, 2009

Yeah I mean one of the things that made me stop thinking about UCI as the equivalent of the Florida Coastal School of Law and take it more seriously, was to see how high the numbers were at LawSchoolNumbers.com, that some high achievers were trying to get in.
posted by Kirklander at 4:44 PM on March 16, 2009

Actually it would probably pretty clever on their part to make it a strict rule to only accept students in the top 10% of both LSAT and GPA. Then they're guaranteed high marks for those measures, and if they only get 100 students or something, then hey - the faculty to student ratio is incredible!
posted by rkent at 4:52 PM on March 16, 2009

Dude I am an attorney who is struggling on my own to start a practice.
The job market is horrible right now. Consumers are cutting back huge law firms are laying lawyers off in droves.

If I were you I would take the offer at UCI. Everyone already thinks highly of it because of Chemerinsky and will know that you got free tuition to go.

In this environment I would feel so much freer to pursue anything were it not for my student loan debt. It sucks waiting for clients to pay you when you keep getting your student loan bills every month.

Besides Fordham and Emory aren't all that nationally prominent. UCI already has lots of national exposure because of Chemerinsky.
posted by Twinedog at 5:34 PM on March 16, 2009

Are you going to be a stand-out student at Irvine? If so, this may be a special opportunity. Turn a free ride into some sweet connections with over-qualified profs, and that will turn into some decent employment prospects. But if you think you might just blend in there, it might make more sense to go for the numbers.
posted by grobstein at 7:31 PM on March 16, 2009

UCI cannot be Top-25 if you are in the first class because the accreditation cycle takes three years to run its course. You are really going to a new law school that probably has good professors but has no graded track record. Keep that in mind.
posted by parmanparman at 8:25 PM on March 16, 2009

To follow-up on my previous comment, in your situation, choosing between UCI and Emory or Fordham WITHOUT ANY AID, I would definitely choose UCI. Especially considering that the first class is so small and elite and everyone knows about it. Tuition at Emory or Fordham will leave you with $150k of debt when you leave and that's before living expenses. And degrees from there won't be so impressive, unless you want to be in Nola or Atlanta, that they're worth that if you have other options.

However, keep a few things in mind: 1 - the focus of UCI is to be public interest law. If that's what you want, good. If not, consider whether the curriculum is going to teach you what you want, and whether the available on-campus interview and counseling are going to be what you want. 2 - as nuts as the first year of law school is (and really the whole time), it will really be nuts at a school where they are making it up as they go along. They are trying to reinvent law school, and I'm sure that the first year will be somewhat screwy. There won't be established computer labs or a library or anything like that. 3 - I think the world of Erwin Chemerinsky, and his comment about the rankings is very measured and appropriate. But USNews does not rank unaccredited programs. So UCI will not be "ranked" for 3 - 5 years, probably closer to 5. When you graduate and look for a job, you'll do so when the school is still a relatively unknown commodity for employers, because it will still be unranked. Presuming that it is accredited (which I think is a virtual certainty), sure, in the future, your degree will be relatively useful in finding a job Initially, when you're looking for a job, employers are still going to look at it as something they're not too sure about. 4 - everyone in the class is going to be pretty sharp, and I'm not sure if they've said anything about ranking or curve, but you should probably expect that the class will be approximately as competitive as a current top 20 law school. You may not end up doing as well as your classmates, and that may make it hard to get a job coming out of UCI.

Still, sounds exciting. In your situation I would do it.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 8:32 PM on March 16, 2009

The school's two assets seems to be Chemerinsky and that it is free. Chemerinsky's relationship with UC Irvine is already notoriously rocky, so consider whether he will be there long enough for his fame to rub off on you. A free ride is a generous offer, but with California having such a huge budget crunch I wonder what the catch is.
posted by profwhat at 8:35 PM on March 16, 2009

Free Ride? UCI. (Fordham and Emory are not that impressive.) Debt-free is a great thing to be.

Post L.S. employment has more to do with you - your objectives, your preparation, your moxie, your ability to sell yourself / find your niche / etc.
posted by coffeefilter at 8:53 PM on March 16, 2009

Uh... it will be very hard to get a job coming out of this. Unaccredited means you'll be basically limited to California and will have to jump through a bunch of extra bar hoops, and the legal job market is terrible at the moment. Assuming it's better in three years, it's still not worth it. Even a three-year free ride isn't worth it, because a) you'll still probably take out loans for living expenses (unless those are paid too or you plan on working during law school -- a bad idea), and b) do you want to waste three years of your life for an economically useless degree?
posted by paultopia at 9:59 PM on March 16, 2009

Contrary to what I said in another post a few days ago, in this constellation of choices, I'd go for the free ride. As several posters have suggested, Fordham and Emory are not really safe bets, career wise (in my opinion). Even if you don't have a job after studying at UCI, you won't be saddled with, say, $130K in debt. So, that's a plus.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:07 PM on March 16, 2009

The discussion has pointed out the negatives for UCI, but some of the positives should be mentioned:

Chemerinsky - heroic and a great reputation.

Dean Ortiz - taken from Boalt, a huge loss for us, but a great resource for UCI.

Free - pointed out repeatedly, but free means you're not beholden to your debt. UC law school costs will approach $40,000 for in-state tuition annually, in addition to "cost of living" and so on. Graduating with a $100,000+ debt influences where and why people work - having a chance to do well and do good is a bit more reasonable without being saddled with debt.

Reputation - matters for getting in the door most places and for the majority of large firms. If firm work is not your goal, this becomes a lower priority. Also, you'll get a chance to be judged for you rather than your school. UCI will not be seen as a low ranked school so much as an unknown. If you stand out you'll form the school's reputation and in any event not be held back by it. Their "goal" is "a top-20-caliber experience at a school on the cutting edge of legal education" and they're recruited the faculty to pull that off.

Also as discussed above, consider location - if you'll practice in California and you are not waiting on UCLA or Berkeley Law or Stanford, UCI should at least parallel Hastings or King Hall (or outrank them considering faculty publication/citation, ratio, and several other factors).

Finally, remember why you want to get a JD and stick to it no matter what the herd does. Your passion and interest will get you much more than your school name in the end. Best luck!
posted by unclezeb at 6:20 AM on March 17, 2009

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