When UCI Law opened in 2009, there was plenty of excitement. Students had the rare opportunity to be the inaugural class of a much-hyped law school. Best of all, they all came in with full scholarships. Faculty members, under the tutelage of Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, were ready to start making the school a competitor with the likes of University of Texas - Austin, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Southern California. However, before UCI Law can truly establish itself among the aforementioned top-20 law schools, it must gain full accreditation. Things are on the right track in this respect as, on June 14th, 2011, UCI Law was granted provisional accreditation by the American Bar Association.
It is difficult to explain the excitement around this new law school to those not immersed in the legal world. Outsiders see the legal market as a bloated enterprise that has taken several hits over the past couple of years. Tuition is on the rise, average student debt grows, and a question mark hangs over many students' employment prospects. Some wondered why anyone would want to found a law school in a state that already has twenty ABA-accredited law schools.
A few answers arise when you look at the details. The University of California system is nationally renowned and nationally connected. It has in its repertoire the most reputable public law school in the country, Berkeley's Boalt Hall. Every law school in the UC system is ranked in the first tier, so another - by virtue of its name - will bring imminent publicity and claims of potential greatness. In Irvine's case, Dean Victoria Ortiz touted, "we will be a top 20 school, by any measure, any time we are ranked."
The opening of a law school is rare. The audacity of Deans Chemerinsky and Ortiz is rarer. Their assured claims of top law school status drew enough attention to attract a highly qualified, diverse student body. It is, of course, impossible to predict exactly what ranking the law school will reach once it receives full accreditation (UCI Law will be eligible for full accreditation in 2014). Incoming students realize this, and everyone at UCI Law, professors included, are aware of the gamble they took when they moved to Orange County.
The full-tuition, waived application fee, a rock star faculty and a list of employers willing to hire students were Irvine's primary gambits. Except for the guaranteed full-tuition, everything remains in place for this cycle. Many students won't apply because of the risks, uncertainties and weirdness involved in being at a school without upperclassmen or alumni to look to for help. Still, 2,700 applicants threw their name in the ring between 2008 and 2009. From this competitive group, 110 students were accepted and 60 enrolled. Today, they are doing what they can to fulfill Dean Ortiz's prophecy.
Because it is still nascent, nobody has a grasp on the particular quirks of UCI Law's admissions process. We have little to go on. The law school's medians suggest it favors competitive applicants. In addition, the law school chose not to share 25th and 75th percentile information with TLS, claiming the insignificance of these statistics. This is reasonable, since the class size is extremely small, the law school has only had one cycle, and numbers without context can easily mislead potential applicants.
So, any insights we have into the admissions process come from Dean Ortiz. In an exclusive TLS interview, she says that the broad goal of the law school is "to bring together a community of bright, engaged, academically talented, risk-taking students." Administrators recognize each student is taking a chance being in the inaugural class, which means, naturally, they will seek students who seem up to the challenge.
Dean Ortiz continues, "Even in our second, third, fourth years of operation, we will still be a new law school" and, because of this, UCI Law will need students who can remain excited not only about attending a top law school, but also about building a top law school from the inside out. As Dean Morgan of University of Nevada - Las Vegas put it, UCI Law's mission is much like "trying to fly the plane while you're still building it."
Whatever knowledge we have about the admissions process will likely become outdated, as a current first year tells us, "[admissions] will likely keep the second year class small (60 to 80) and then grow it slowly until they reach about 200 students per class." In December 2009, an admissions counselor told TLS that the second year class size could be "80 to 100" if there are enough qualified students.
Because of its extremely small class size, UCI Law had the best acceptance rate of the 2009 cycle. Out of 2,742 applicants, the law school accepted 110. A 4% acceptance rate easily trumps that of Yale or Stanford, but it is difficult to maintain. As long as applications remain free and the hype keeps up, students will likely apply by the thousands.
|Class of 2012|
|Percentage Students of Color||37%|
|Percentage of Applicants Admitted||4%|
|Source: UC Irvine Office of Admissions|
Admissions basicsThe first thing file readers do is read the many statements that UC Irvine asks students to write. These statements are paramount to an applicant's success. Dean Ortiz stresses this point: "The non-numerical factors are tremendously important in our assessment or evaluation of a candidate's file. I cannot overstate that point. People, applicants, are not simply a combination of two numbers, with a little bit added on."
Some things will help your chances, though they by no means guarantee admission. Remember that the school will only accept a tiny fraction of applicants; they have the luxury of being choosy. They will pick who they consider to be the best fit, though not by any predictable metric. Dean Ortiz says that "evidence of consistent and committed public interest or volunteer work" can make her lean towards a candidate. However, she also cites the following as other positive factors: raising a family while earning your Bachelor's, having a career as a scientist and returning to school, strong academic credentials. There is no rule about what turns heads at UCI Law, but any of the above should definitely work in your favor.
The law school aims for diversity, so it behooves you to showcase what makes you unique. Moreover, since the class size is small, it helps to apply early. Decisions go out as early as November, and if you wait until the deadline to apply, then, says Ortiz, "it is really too late."
Transcripts and lsat scores
As an applicant, you have limited wiggle room once your numbers are locked in. Fortunately, Ortiz says, "We do not feel it is our place to weight the applicants' undergraduate institutions or to somehow value some of these more than others." That is, prestige is of limited interest to UC Irvine. What matters are upward or downward grade trends. If a trend is noticeable either way, applicants are encouraged to submit an addendum explaining the earlier or later weaker performance.
Also, the school accepts additional statements with strong numbers only "if they were earned under incredibly adverse circumstances and the applicant wants to point out how remarkable" this success is under duress.
A candidate with more than one LSAT score won't have to fret too much. Dean Ortiz informs us, "We take the higher score in cases where an applicant has taken the LSAT more than once." She also warns prospective students not to take the LSAT more than once, since the chances of increasing one's score significantly are low. She also adds:
If the applicant has a history of performing weakly on standardized tests while doing very well in the classroom (as evidenced through strong grades in demanding courses), then it is an excellent idea to provide evidence of that in an addendum. Applicants are encouraged to request their old SAT/PSAT scores from ETS and submit them along with the addendum.
When it comes to personal statements, Dean Ortiz gives a long list of don'ts. She says never to start an essay with the following:"Ever since I was five years old I have wanted to be a lawyer." Also:
Do not repeat in narrative form what is on your resume. Do not use a commercial, canned statement. Do not have someone else write it for you.
Do not be cute. Do not submit personal statements in poetry form. Do not pretend the personal statement is a memorandum of law submitted to a judge.Remember that admissions personnel are professionals and the applicant is aspiring to become a professional. The personal statement should reflect this professionalism.
One word should guide your writing process: authenticity. UCI Law wants to know who you are, because you will be part of a batch of students who understand risk, who are motivated, who they can imagine will make an outstanding first set of alumni. This is a tall order, and they are clearly looking for statements that take the time to address these issues, either directly or indirectly.
If you are not really interested in helping to start a new law school, then this will come across in your writing. First, you have to convince yourself, come up with a good argument, weigh the risks involved, and after going through this process, give them what they need to decipher who you are. The law school requires "a second statement that addresses the applicant's reasons for wishing specifically to attend this brand-new school." This means that you have time to directly address this issue, and you shouldn't commit your personal statement (unless you feel compelled to) answering the question.
Your personal statement, if tailored to UCI Law (and not, says Ortiz, "by simply putting in the name of the school"), will reveal the seriousness of your application. This is time consuming. It will take several drafts. There will be rewrites, complete scraps of versions, possible self-torment and maybe even gnashing of the teeth; the point is, not many students will take the time to put this effort in. Since the law school is accepting so few people, they will set aside those who are serious from those who are not, and the essays are how they do this efficiently.
This supports Dean Ortiz's assertion that they look beyond the two numbers when choosing their class. Since the school is aspiring to be in the top 20, it is going to make some effort to keep its LSAT and GPA medians competitive. Use the above numbers as one metric; what is really important, if you want to attend UCI Law, is that you express your seriousness in an authentic manner.
That said, much of Dean Ortiz's comments make sense. It is easy to see why she says, "Diversity is not a monolithic category." The law school considers each applicant as different from every other applicant. "Some diversity," she tells us, "can be described as ethnic, racial, national, or religious - in other words, identity diversity. There is also geographic diversity, political diversity, age diversity, gender identity diversity, and sexual orientation diversity, among others."
The diversity statement is your chance to tell the law school more about what separates you from the pack. Remember that whatever rhetoric you put forth in the diversity statement should be an accompaniment to, not a rehashing of, your rhetoric in the personal statement.
Letters of recommendation
Dean Ortiz suggests getting your letters from professors who have taught you. They are, according to her, "by far the best letters to provide." Ortiz continues:
We want to be sure that the applicant has the intellectual make-up, the study habits, the curiosity and level of engagement in ideas that are required of successful law students.Letters from employers are ok, but they must focus on describing skills and attributes that are necessary for strong students.
Do not submit a letter from friends or relatives and stay away from public figures who may have known you since you were a child. Usually, these people cannot give any information about how you will perform academically.
For the Class of 2012, students were given full-tuition scholarships. The law school wants to continue to attract top students, so substantial scholarship offers will likely be made, especially while the class size remains small.
On June 14th, 2011, the school's application for provisional accreditation was granted by the American Bar Association. As a result, graduates can now take the bar exam without taking a "baby bar" qualifying exam. UCI Law is on track to receive full accreditation in 2014 (at which point it will be ranked by U.S. News and World Report).
Students should not worry too much about the law school gaining accreditation. This is part of the risk of attending, but it is very likely that UCI Law will easily meet all of the provisional accreditation requirements by the time their first students graduate.
For every school, the waitlist plays a particular role. Students may be pleased to hear that even with so few acceptances, UCI Law did, in fact, use the waitlist for its first cycle. On the other hand, Dean Ortiz says, once you are on the list, "there is really nothing a waitlisted student need do beyond letting us know she wishes to remain on the waitlist."
The law school cannot give out specific numbers as to how many waitlist acceptances it made, in order to protect the confidentiality of students. Since the class size is exceedingly small, this makes sense.
Further, there are no set dates for when the waitlist is closed; the law school plans to close it - as a general principle - once an optimal class size is reached. This, combined with the fact that anywhere from 60 to 100 students could make up the new class, only adds to the uncertainty of how this cycle will pan out.
As of December 2009, the law school does not yet know if it will accept transfer applicants.
Law school culture
The culture at UC Irvine is another big unknown. It is unlike other law schools in that there are no upperclassmen who can give you the rundown on professors' teaching and exam habits. The grading curve, for the time being, is "recommended" as follows:
A+, no more than 5 percent of the students enrolled.
A or A-, 35 percent of the students enrolled.
B+ or B, 35 percent of the students enrolled.B- or lower, 25 percent of the students enrolled.
The median is generously set at a B+ (3.3), which, along with the recommended (as opposed to mandatory) nature of the curve, means students probably won't be worrying extensively about grades. For the first several years, incoming classes will have the privilege and the burden of forming the law school's culture. Students must be willing to contribute to the school in any number of ways, since there are no student organizations, no law journals, no moot courts, and no alumni to rely on for help.
So, it is very likely that the culture will be cooperative, exciting, stressful, and full of the notion that you are creating something of value with your fellow students. This, along with the regular pressure of law school, may be too much for some. For others, though, this is rightly seen as a rare chance to shape how people will commit themselves to the law. Currently, however, the culture of the law school is amorphous; it will probably change with each incoming class.
For the time being, public service is mentioned by administrators and students quite often. Granted, many first years will enter law school wanting to commit themselves to the public and many will end up working at large law firms to pay off debt. The students at UCI Law will not be worrying too much about debt, which allows them to realistically remain focused on this goal.
One of the inaugural students gives us additional insight:
What's exciting is that it's still in the process of being created, and I don't see how the culture could be "formed" for another few years, yet. That said, I would say that there is a distinct emphasis on public service from the top down.
Among the students, though at the moment a bit intense, we're all very collegial. Lots of outline sharing, collaboration, study groups, etc. We're all here very much by choice - despite the scholarship. I think we all took a bit of a risk in coming here, and that risk (or at least the prospect of contributing to the creation of a new institution) was part of the allure.I also think that will carry over into future classes…Even with its lack of accreditation or rank, UCI Law boasts one of the more dynamic and student-oriented faculties of any law school in the country, and that whatever tradeoff we might make in terms of a lack of immediate brand-name recognition is more than made up for by the intimate academic atmosphere and opportunities - responsibilities, even - to do more than just go to class and study.
Very clearly, then, most students understand their role at UCI Law is to be more than a student. This may be a foreign notion to many applicants. It may also be extremely exciting to others. Because of the stakes involved in choosing this law school over another, most students are at the very least resigned and happy to be attending. Some may have qualms with the city of Irvine, but there are hardly any complaints regarding the quality of education that students are getting. The inaugural student says:
[My] complaints and worries are nothing that a regular 1L wouldn't feel: workload, nerves, etc. But in terms of feeling like I'm missing out on something at a more established school, nothing.
I can't imagine having gone anywhere else. I knew once I heard about UCI that it would probably be the right fit for me, were I fortunate enough to be admitted.I guess the fact that none of us know for sure which classes will be offered next year could be a bit of a stress, but the administration is involving all of us in that process (essentially, any class that has 5+ students will be offered), and if a class we want isn't going to be available the faculty has promised to figure out a way to give us what we need - be it an independent study, externship with a practicing attorney in the area of specialization, etc.
The above highlights quite possibly the greatest benefit of choosing UCI Law over another law school. You will get more personal attention than you know what to do with. The law school is heavily investing its time and energy to create a competitive institution, and Dean Chemerinsky recognizes that students matter.
If accepted, you will find that your opinions, your educational desires, and your job prospects are all important to the faculty at UCI Law. Though there are no alumni to help you out, faculty and administrators will fill in the gap. Professors are well-connected and, in some cases, well-renowned. They will do what they can to help you get the experience you want.
Dean Chemerinsky shares the following about Orange County's conservative-leaning atmosphere and the political atmosphere of the law school:
I have discovered that Orange County is an incredibly diverse area, in every way including politically. It has a very diverse population, including large Latino and Asian populations. There are conservatives and liberals and individuals of all ideologies.The law school has no ideology. Our advisory board has liberals and conservatives. Our faculty has liberals and conservatives. I am sure our students include liberals and conservatives. That is the way it should be. A law school should be a place where individuals of all ideologies feel comfortable and where all ideas are expressed and discussed.
ProfessorsAs we mentioned above, the professors are top-notch. They are one of the main draws for applicants. Currently, 22 professors teach at UCI Law, which makes the student to faculty ratio an unbeatable 3 to 1. This number will continue to be impressive for a few years, as more hires are planned even as more students enroll.
Dean Chemerinsky gives the following information about the founding faculty members and what law schools they hailed from:
Our ten founding faculty who arrived in July 2008 included individuals such as Dan Burk (Minnesota), Catherine Fisk (Duke), Carrie Hempel (USC), Trina Jones (Duke), Carrie Menkel-Meadow (Georgetown), Rachel Moran (UC Berkeley), Ann Southworth (Case Western), Grace Tonner (Michigan), and Henry Weinstein (USC).
The dean at University of Virginia called the faculty "first-rate," saying Dean Chemerinsky has done "what most thought impossible." This list, with the addition of some other faculty, has been touted as a "dream team," "a great start," and "outstanding" by deans of top law schools. One of the highlights is Catherine Fisk, who is an expert in labor and employment law and civil rights law.
Dean Ortiz says, "Aside from the personal reasons each individual faculty member may have had, I think that all of them share in the strong desire to be an integral part of building a new, vibrant institution." Indeed, students can expect that these faculty members are more than professors. They will be involved in the creation of brand new curricula, in student organizations, in fundraising and mentoring. Their teaching roles will be supplemented by the roles of an inaugural staff. Apart from grading exams and teaching the law, they will be advocates for the law school in every field.
Many current faculty and staff members, according to Dean Ortiz, "were drawn here because we wanted to work with Dean Erwin Chemerinsky." Much can be said about Chemerinsky as a professor and a scholar; the Leiter rankings have him as the "number 3 most-cited constitutional law professor." In fact, Catherine Fisk ranks number 6 on the same metric for labor law.
A first-year reports back to TLS about the professor situation at the law school. He states, "Office doors are always open." In fact, he continues:
They "bait" the faculty suites with candy, so we're inclined to swing by. Like the students, the faculty all chose to be here, and the sense I get is that more are dying to get in the door here (I'm one of the student reps on the faculty appointments committee, so I have a bit of an inside view on that process).
The mention of a "faculty appointment committee" on which students can sit underscores how involved students will be in shaping the law school. Students are able to openly voice their concerns and state their hopes about what professors they want and the law school will listen. In turn, professors watch out for students, and, when the time comes, will play a role in helping them find work.
As for what it's like inside the building, a student shares the following about the use of Socratic Method, cold-calling and other teaching techniques:
It varies, professor by professor. Most of the professors I've had this semester use a volunteer/soft-Socratic method. I understand that next semester, we'll have at least one professor who employs the traditional Socratic.
I think we're all sort of excited about it - our Ks professor used a "modified Socratic" brilliantly, and we're all in awe of his skills as a teacher. I think his class sort of took the fear out of the Socratic, by making it voluntary and giving us the freedom to "punt" if we got stuck, and now I suspect we're all more confident in our abilities as a result.For what it's worth, that class was the single most exceptional educational classroom experience I've ever had the privilege of enjoying, and the greatest pedagogical professor I've ever encountered (and, also, for what it's worth, I was an Ivy undergraduate).
This variation in teaching methods seems to be standard at law schools. What stands out, though, is how well professors seem to be applying standard teaching methods. Naturally, first-years don't have much to compare it to, but there is something to be said about the fact that faculty members are not only established scholars, but also, that they reportedly know how to teach.
Curriculum for first-year students is rather traditional. While the names of classes are different, the subject matter remains the same: torts, contracts, criminal law, lawyering skills, legal analysis and legal writing are all part of the curriculum. You can view the curriculum here.
The difference at UCI, according to Dean Ortiz, is that the "approachto legal education blends practice into theory, providing experiential approaches to the teaching and learning of legal theory and concepts." This means that first-year students get exposed to "fact investigation, negotiation, interviewing," along with other lawyering skills that first-year students at other law schools do not traditionally get. This may give students a leg up when they are seeking employment, though that is yet to be determined.
Interestingly, all students are required to perform "intake interviews of real clients," says Dean Chemerinsky. The law school has partnerships in place with Legal Aid Society of Orange County, Orange County Public Defender's office, and Public Law Center. These partnerships give students in their second semester direct access to real people who need legal services.
Also, students have to take a year-long course called Legal Profession. Dean Chemerinsky tells us, "This will teach students about the economics of the profession, the psychology of the profession, and the sociology of the profession." To help you parse out what the classes cover, Dean Chemerinsky provides a handy list:
In the fall, students take Common Law Analysis: Private Ordering (focusing on contracts and some property), Procedural Analysis, and Statutory Analysis (using criminal law to teach this). In the spring, students also will take Common Law Analysis: Government Regulation (focusing on torts and some property), Constitutional Analysis, and International Legal Analysis.
The law school does not have a computer requirement, and exams and notes can be taken either by hand or on a laptop. There have been no reports to TLS about whether or not laptops are banned in certain classes, but with how small the class is and how close students will be to their professors, there will probably be minimal issues regarding tweeting, facebooking, or instant messaging while students are in class.
Curricular opportunities, for the time being, are limited. There is no established study abroad program and there are no joint degree program offerings. Students will be focused on two things: obtaining their J.D. and building up the law school's organizations.
That said, all students have an additional requirement to fulfill in their third year. They must have clinical experience before graduation. Dean Ortiz says, "The required clinical units will be earned by participation in either one of the in-house clinics we are developing or in one of a number of externships with organizations that will partner with us."
While this has yet to pan out, a first-year talks to TLS about the requirement:
We're all going to be required to take some sort of clinic that will give us the direct experience many of us were attracted to in coming to law school in the first place.
I know I used clinical availability as a rubric to measure the schools to which I applied; though I'm not sure exactly what will be available when the time comes. I'm certain it will be rewarding and engaging.[In the spring], as part of our lawyering skills course we'll all be doing client interviews at various public interest legal service providers in the community as a warm up to the "real" clinics, which will be a part of the 3rd year curriculum.
Nobody can say for sure what the law school will offer in later years. The UC system will very likely back the school, and much of what UCI Law will offer depends on the manpower and resources it can devote. Students cannot independently improve curricular offerings, but they can tell administrators where they want funding to be concentrated.
That said, you will likely have a chance to shape what curricular opportunities exist at UCI Law. If they do not materialize for you, however, then you might have to resign yourself to the fact that some classes will only be available to those who come after you. As was revealed above, any class that has more than 5 students wishing to enroll will likely be offered to those students.
This makes it seem like program tracks, class offerings, and other curricular opportunities will form slowly as the class size increases and the law school gets more grounded. For now, incoming students have a choice. They can resign themselves to what is available, or they can clamor for more. Because of the culture that UCI Law is building for itself, it seems like student input will, for the most part, yield something that current and future students will find useful.
We have no statistics for job placement because nobody has graduated yet. Similarly, information regarding indebtedness is limited (though we have a quick analysis in the Quality of Life section below).
Everything, at this point, is speculation. The predictions range from confident to hopeless. Naturally, those who predict the legal market's demise will have little hope for a burgeoning law school, regardless of what anyone says. Current students and deans, of course, look at the future with great expectations.
Dean Ortiz gives us some reasons for cautious optimism:
Brand-new or not, a law school with [our] affiliation starts several paces ahead of many, many other law schools because of the national (indeed international) reputation of the University of California.[We have] commitments from over 70 employers - private, public interest, and government - that say they will interview our students during on campus interviewing and consider them for employment.
In addition, Dean Chemerinsky says, "Many [of these employers] have said that they will hire our students. Many federal judges have told me that they are interested in our students for clerkships." Within Orange County, there seems to be a demand for UCI Law graduates (who don't even exist yet) among law firms, government offices, and other agencies.
While the law school has national aspirations, most of the excitement seems to be regional. Dean Ortiz explains why:
There are three public law schools in Northern California and, until UC Irvine School of Law was founded, only one in Southern California. At the same time, the region is home to close to two-thirds of the state's inhabitants, many of whom have critical and as-yet unmet legal needs. In addition, increasing numbers of large corporations are establishing offices in Southern California and national law firms are enlarging their existing local offices or opening new ones.
There is some risk that the law school will be more of a regional powerhouse than a national one. Students, once the law school has provisional accreditation, will be able to take the bar exam in whatever state they want. This will help things, but any new law school will have trouble building a national base, especially when one considers the troubled legal market.
Still, Dean Chemerinsky says, "We are a national law school and will work aggressively to place our students wherever they want to settle." A first-year shares this anecdote regarding Chemerinsky's (and the law school's) helpfulness, though the example is one of local placement:
Our career services director has been working with us individually to find great placements. Those of us who went after federal court externships, for example, had help from Dean Chemerinsky, who made personal calls to his judge contacts directly to "pair" us. I have already been told that I will get an interview with my first choice, a local federal judge.
Granted, this student self-describes his job search as"non-traditional and limited to the immediate area," and there may be other examples that highlight the national aspirations of the school. For now, though, we will have to keep a lookout on the TLS forums for more information regarding summer employment prospects at UCI Law.
Quality of life
Businesses in Irvine are excited about the new law school. Law firms, government agencies, and legal aid societies want in on the action. Irvine is the major business and financial hub of Orange County, which has a reputation (thanks to The O.C. and Laguna Beach) for producing rich, spoiled white kids. The people of Irvine are more than this, though, and such a minimalist depiction of the nation's most populous county cannot hold.There are immigrants from around the world who decided to settle there, deciding that the great weather, nearby large cities (Los Angeles and San Diego are about an hour's drive), and relaxed, suburban sprawl were part of the American Dream. The city has a large Asian community, which makes up about 30 percent of the population. It is somewhat pricey to live in Irvine, and, accordingly, poverty levels are below the national average.
Irvine seems to value education. The two major employers in this city of 212,000 are UC Irvine and Irvine Unified School District, which manages public schools. Everyone knows the value of these institutions, as, together, they provide jobs for about 18,000 residents. A first-year mentions, "The community - legal, corporate, and otherwise - sees UCI Law as a huge score." This is not because they expect the law school to provide more jobs. Rather, "it's like landing a major league sports franchise, and is a tremendous boon to the community and its image on a number of levels."
The university is out to create a veritable giant for Southern California. The excitement is palpable, community support and pride are there to help the law school meet its mission however possible. The first-year continues:
I heard more than one senior partner at local firms discuss their firm's decision to make a sizable donation to the school, at the expense of sending money back to their alma maters. Alongside this sense of community pride comes a local market rich in resources but young enough in its development so as not to be completely dominated by entrenched corporate institutions (biglaw or otherwise) that might slow, impede, or altogether block a fresh law school graduate's path to success in the big cities.In other words, the pond is stocked and the fishing is good.
That said, a streak of optimism seems to surround this whole venture. In fact, current students have described themselves as full of enthusiasm, which can be infectious for future students. More words from a 1L:
My classmates are all interesting, smart, and seem very nice, and I think there is a different mindset at work. Competition will be inevitable to some degree, but those of us in the first class will be bound to one another in many ways, and therefore have a vested interest in the success of the whole.That attitude is inculcated from the top down, but I also saw it embodied in every one of the committed students I met. Moreover, for many of us, there didn't seem to be much of a choice about it at all - the first year at UCI will be different in just about every way from the standard 1L experience, and that is what makes it such an un-pass-up-able opportunity. Yeah, I swallowed the Kool-Aid. But it tasted delicious, and sometimes you just know something's good for you.
This attitude at UCI Law is a powerful one, as it is not only the students who possess it, but various employers as well. Thus, as a student at the new law school, you will likely be seen as a rare breed (there will only be a handful of you) and, in some cases, people will be surprised to hear that there is a law school in Irvine at all.
This means your role as a student might be ambassadorial even when you don't intend it to be. Sometimes, in unexpected places, an explanation, however brief, will be required of you. In those moments, you will be more than a student. You will be a representative of an institution. This will probably be rare, as current students report being so entrenched in the law school's community that they will rarely meet people outside the sphere of their classmates. But it is still something for prospective students to consider.
Finally, the political and social climate may be of interest to current applicants. A first-year tells us:
It was a concern - I'm a little left leaning, and was pleased to be informed that Newport Beach went for Obama, and as of the last election there was only a 4% difference in voter registration between Democrats and Republicans (largely due to the vast Latino and immigrant population in the area).This matters to me, especially as I look to the future and see ways in which the law school can contribute to (and its graduates benefit from, leanings aside) the political development of the community.
Orange County is actually one of the more conservative parts of California, which is a largely liberal state. This makes Irvine atypical of cities in the region but typical of larger cities in the state.
The law school currently does not have its own building, which may be a bone of contention for some applicants. However, Dean Ortiz says:
UC Irvine is a bustling and excellent research university, all of whose resources are available to our law students. The campus is beautiful, graduate student and family housing is extraordinarily comfortable and affordable, the campus' services for all students are above par.
A helpful 1L tells TLS, "The gym/recreation center is the most impressive I've ever seen." The law library is brand new as well, and many students expect the law building, once it is built, to be a fine addition.
A first year says, "In general, the school's facilities are really nice, and the on-campus housing is fantastic - especially for families/domestic partners. Our apartment is reasonable, nice and spacious, and generally a huge step up from where we had been."
For those who wish to live off-campus, there are several residents of Irvine onTLS who offer some very useful information:
[Regarding] "affordable" living in Central/South Orange County: Costa Mesa is a popular place for students looking for a cheaper place to live. There are also cheaper digs (albeit older and smaller, but much closer to the beach and the televised O.C. lifestyle) in Newport Beach.
Prospective students should also consider Tustin which in some parts has the safety and quality of life of Irvine without the price tag (be careful of which part though). Lake Forest is also a popular choice for students.Note: all of the aforementioned locations require a car. You can get by attending Irvine without a car but life will be miserable. Your GPA might reflect your lack of recreation so maybe that'd be a good thing. I digress. UCI also has a free shuttle service for students that runs in the neighboring apartment complexes - Park West (affectionately termed "Park Watts" for being the crummiest apartments in Irvine) is relatively affordable and these shuttles service the area. If you've made the decision to attend Irvine, start checking out Anteater Forums (you can probably find a link on UCI's website) for graduate students to live with.
The median cost of housing in Irvine is higher than most places in the country, which partially explains why the living estimate UCI Law gives is so high. For future classes, this will likely affect how much in loans students will have to take out, which will probably increase the average amount of indebtedness for students at UCI Law. That said, it is hard to find a reputable law school in a city with such great beach access, and if UCI Law's top 20 dream comes to fruition, location may be a major draw for future applicants.
Dean Ortiz says, "Southern California is a wonderful area of the country. The climate is fabulous. There are beaches, desert, and mountains all within close proximity." Nobody can argue with that. Southern California has drawn people from around the world to bask in its beauty. It should come as no wonder that Orange County is the most populated county in the country. Ortiz continues:
Irvine is not your typical city. While it is a thriving community, there is no real downtown. There are many wonderful places nearby where students can shop, play, walk, and eat. If you prefer cities like New York, San Francisco, etc., Irvine might be a culture shock. But remember, Orange County has tremendous diversity and offers a wide range of cultural, social, and recreational opportunities.
A resident backs this up, "When it comes to clubbing, Irvine doesn't have much, actually Orange County doesn't have much but L.A. really isn't that far away." There is also plenty to do around the city. Residents share the following:
You can go to the beach in the morning and then go up to the mountains and ski by noon. You can go out and play sand sports or go grab a beer with your friends at the on-campus pub.
You can have a bonfire and dance under the stars. Actually, you can dance anywhere. Yeah, you can hike and swim and surf. You can take out your jet ski and enjoy the water or jog along the beach.
Irvine is an incredibly nice area. The Irvine Company (which owns the vast majority of commercial and rental properties) planned the entire community and tries their best to keep the town as close to Pleasantville as possible. As you could imagine, this has both pluses and minuses. On the one hand, you almost never have to worry about crime. On the other, the town is pretty dead and everything shuts down at 9 PM. That and because of the low crime rate, the cops have nothing better to do but hound you for traffic tickets.The beauty of Orange County is that you can literally do anything here. Yes, it might be a bit expensive, but literally anything is within your reach. With the fusion of so many cultures and peoples, any hobby, food, or niche that you are looking for can be easily found.
The style of life in Irvine is different from large cities; it is where beach culture meets suburbia, and a first year "definitely appreciates the clean, calm, and quiet." He goes on to say:
I know some of my classmates may not be quite as enchanted with the suburban setting as I am. But, as a student it's not like we have much time to go on the town anyway.
What we need is right here (Trader Joe's, movie theater, groceries, one decent bar right off campus, one pub on campus, and a bunch of eateries ranging from the not-so-great to the awesome).If someone really wants an urban law school experience, this probably isn't the ideal place. Nevertheless, Newport Beach has lots of stuff going on, and there are 3 amazing malls (and I'm not a mall-person) within a 10 minute drive (Fashion Island, Southcoast Plaza, Irvine Spectrum).
Also, he reports, living in suburban Irvine was part of the gamble for some incoming students. Generally, though, students are pleased and their qualms are minor. In addition, bike lovers are in for a treat. "All of Irvine is one big bike lane," a 1L says. "Cycling here is huge. There are bike paths everywhere, and you can ride to the beach in 20 minutes." Indeed, with 282 miles of bike lanes throughout the city, students can enjoy the Orange County Coast with the wind against their helmet, pushing hornbooks and bluebooking out of their minds for a few hours at a time.
The bus system may be a minus for the city. A current resident says, "Anyone who tells you OCTA (Orange County Transportation Authority) is a reliable and sufficient method of transportation in Irvine has not lived there for a credited period of time."
Students of the inaugural class do not have to pay tuition. The estimated cost of living in Irvine (factoring in educational costs as well) runs about $17,000 each year. That said, if current students take out loans to cover all of this, then average student debt can run as high as $54,000 for the inaugural class. Considering the cost of other law schools, this is not very high at all.
For future students, though, this number is sure to increase unless UCI Law finds enough funding to waive tuition for all its students in later years, which is highly unlikely. Note that since it is a public school, there are two tuition rates - one for residents and one for nonresidents. Without any reliable information on scholarships provided to incoming students, we cannot make any solid predictions about how indebted future classes will be.
Put this on the list of things to come. Dean Ortiz says, "We certainly will have a law review and a moot court program (both internal and one that competes nationally). But we will work with our students on developing these."
Over the years, students will be shaping what the law school has to offer. This is a concrete example of why the law school seeks to enroll those who exhibit an ability to measure and take risks, those who are committed to starting something new, and those who can remain excited about this opportunity for three whole years.
Dean Ortiz warns future students, "No one should choose to go to a particular law school solely based on that school's ranking. There are many factors that go into having a positive law school experience and most of these are actually not reflected in the ranking."
This advice bodes well for a school like UCI Law, which is, as we know, unranked. But the point stands. Ranking is a small piece of a law school's profile. Students will likely get accepted into various law schools in similar tiers; the question becomes one of fit. You have to weigh your options against such impossible-to-predict metrics as quality of life, potential happiness, and the prospect of finding a job that you will enjoy doing.
On top of these unknowns, which apply to all law schools, UCI Law adds a few more. This, students report, is what makes up the risk. However, it is also part of the fun. Here is your opportunity to be a part of something new, something important to a state with a huge economy, population and a long, storied history. As a student at UCI Law, you will have administrators, professors, and upperclassmen telling you how significant your role is.
This will likely add to the stress of attending classes, but for many, it will be worth it to put together what is slated to become a top law school. The great risk, of course, is that the law school never reaches top 20 status and the claims of students and staff alike become bunk. But here we have Dean Ortiz's advice. Rankings are only part of a law school's profile.
The law school, even before it opened its doors, meant much to the community. While it does not plan to be a strictly regional powerhouse, it looks like the law school will provide a highly valued service to the region regardless of its future. Already, students are asked to serve - they will be conducting interviews with clients in their second semester and are required to gain clinical experience before graduation. The law school wants its students to be good lawyers by practicing good lawyering.
Students can be excited about that. They can be excited about the scholarship opportunities available while class sizes are small. They can think about living in a gorgeous city in Southern California close to the beach. And students can have some faith that even if the law school doesn't have national sway by the time they graduate, then something will likely be available to them in Orange County, which after three years, might even seem like home.
While there are many risks involved in attending a brand new law school, there are certainly some things to get enthused about. UCI Law does have a few obvious things going for it. The faculty is top-notch. The experiential curriculum is a novelty among law schools. The Irvine community is excited about the new institution and its students for many reasons.
Ultimately, it is up to the student to decide. If you require more information about UCI Law before sending in that application, contact the admissions office. If you want some frontline impressions of the law school told with honesty and candor, ask any of the current students who frequent TLS. We are here to help, because everyone benefits from an informed decision, but only you can know whether UCI Law is the right fit for you.
Interview: Dean Chemerinsky of UC Irvine School of Law
Interview: Dean Ortiz of UC Irvine School of Law
University of California, Irvine
School of Law
401 East Peltason Drive, Suite 1000
Irvine, CA 92697
U.S. News & World Report Ranking: Unranked
LSAT Median: 167
GPA Median: 3.61
Application Deadline: February 15
Application fee: Waived for 2010 Applicants
Entering class size: 60
Yearly Tuition: Resident, $36,198; Nonresident, $46,838
Bar passage rate in California: N/A
Percent of graduates employed 9 months after graduation: N/A
Median private sector salary: N/A
UCI Law Assistant Dean for Admissions Janice Austin has nearly three decades of law school admissions experience.
“I’m waiting for when I finally will have started admitting my second generation of individuals,” says Janice Austin, assistant dean for admissions and financial aid at the University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI). Austin has worked in law school admissions for almost 30 years; UCI is her fifth school. “My professional life has been spent in legal education, admissions, and financial aid,” she says.
Those decades have given her a perspective that can only be described as historical: In personal statements, she’s seen applicants address everything from the Wall Street crash in 1987 to the September 11 attacks to Hurricane Katrina. “Longevity and experiences at public, private, not-so-elite, and elite schools really just gives me a greater reservoir, so to speak, in terms of helping to manage the process,” she says. “I think that was particularly useful as I joined UCI, which is a relatively new school.”
UCI has been around for just about five years. The school’s newness makes Austin’s job all the more rewarding: She enjoys the feeling of building an institution from the ground up. “The University of California system is world-renowned, and there’s an enormous amount of attention drawn to us, and people looking to see what the outcomes will be as we move forward,” Austin says. “It gives you somewhat of an incentive to move forward in a very positive way.”
How does an admissions veteran operate in a brand-new school? In a thorough interview with TippingTheScales.com, Austin touched on rankings, the value of work experience, and how to demonstrate potential when you don’t have a high GPA.
What do you think makes UCI stand out from other top law schools?
We have a desire to be innovative, but we also recognize that there is a level of tradition that is expected in elite law schools. We offer a small-school setting in a lovely part of the country. And everyone from the top down—leadership, faculty, staff, and our students, of course—selected this institution because we’re very interested in doing the heavy lifting to start and sustain the legacy of an institution that will ultimately outlive all of us.
Why isn’t UCI ranked by U.S. News?
U.S. News only ranks fully accredited law schools. We’ve had our provisional accreditation since 2011, and the earliest any law school can reach full accreditation with the ABA is five years from the date the first class graduates. We anticipate being before the ABA council for the vote this summer. Everyone has kind of followed this process for several years, knowing that as soon as we become eligible for full accreditation, we’ll be in the very next U.S. News ranking. Nonetheless, U.S. News does rank us in some of their subcategories. This past year, they ranked our clinical program #20, and they ranked us fifth for diversity.
How would you describe an ideal candidate?
All law schools look for the exact same thing: Really talented people. That’s the bottom line. The definition of talent has always been subjective, though. Many people would say that it’s only about your LSAT score and GPA. At UCI, we do try to look beyond the numbers. This is California: We know our demographics are very different here, and our challenges are different, so we look for students who accomplish great things in non-standard ways. We look for people who have extraordinary potential, who would excel when they are placed in the right atmosphere.
But, you know, we compete. There are two other terrific law—USC and UCLA—along with other solid law schools in Southern California, so it’s not surprising that much of our applicant pool overlaps extensively. At the end of the day, we look for students who feel that the experience we offer resonates with what they’re seeking from their legal education.
How should applicants demonstrate potential if their grades or LSAT scores aren’t stellar?
What applicants can control is their writing. In addition to the general personal statement, we ask applicants to write more succinctly about why they’re interested in UCI, and we hope that that permits them to really outline and articulate why they believe the school is a good fit for them.
Applicants can also demonstrate potential through letters of recommendation. I will admit that they get to be pretty standard after you’ve looked at thousands and thousands of them over the course of a career, but certain buzzwords and pieces of information can be teased out. When applicants ask, “Well, who should write my letters of recommendation?” I always tell them to go with the people who know them best. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should ask the next-door neighbor you babysat for; more likely, it means you should ask an academic instructor who’s had you in more than one class, or an athletic coach. If that person can compare you with people they’ve known who’ve gone to law school, that’s always very useful.
Page 1 of 212»