How Far Will California-Irvine Go?

An article in the August, 2009, ABA Journal profiled the new law school at the University of California at Irvine which  was entering its first year.  The article reported some interesting things, including a claim that “it is designed to be among the most innovative law schools in the nation.”  Dean Erwin Chemerinsky was quoted as saying, “We have  the wonderful benefit of a blank slate and the chance to create the ideal law school for the 21st century.”  The article, however, was thin on details about plans for the curriculum.

The article reported that there will be a two semester “professionalism” course in the first year in which practictioners from many areas of practice will help students “gain a sense of the different kinds of work the profession does.”  First year students will also be required to conduct intake interviews for legal aid clients.  Two years from now, the school will require students to spend a semester in one of the eight planned in-house clinics.

So far, so good, but it is not clear how committed the school really is to innovative teaching or experiential learning.  There was no mention in the article or on the school’s website as to whether the school has clearly articulated its educational objectives or whether the program of instruction will progressively develop knowledge, skill, and values or integrate the teaching of theory, doctrine, and practice.

The Associate Dean of Clinical Education and Service Learning Programs, Carrie Hempel (formerly at Southern California) was quoted as saying that she gets the “chance to recruit a group of the finest clinicians in the country to come here and build their own dream clinical courses.”  Allowing people to come in and build their own courses does not sound like there will be a program of progressive learning into which these courses will fit.  Most unfortunately, the article makes it sound like there will be a group of people identified as “clinicians” rather than members of the faculty who happen to teach clinical courses.  I hope I am wrong.

It is not apparent that classroom instruction will be any more innovative or skilled than at traditional law schools.  The first members of the faculty were largely recruited from elite law schools, including Berkeley and Duke.  As a group, the faculty ranks 10th in the nation in ”scholarly impact,” and UC-Irvine intends to be considered an elite law school from the beginning.  All members of the faculty may be excellent teachers who are devoted to preparing students for practice, but there is no mention of this in the article or on the school’s website.

Will UC-Irvine’s law school really be an innovative place that can legitimately claim to be the ideal school for the 21st century?  I hope so, but it is too early to tell.  Meanwhile, if anyone has more details about the curriculum, please share it with us.


5 Responses

  1. I hope that UC-Irvine can seize the opportunity for innovation that is uniquely available to a brand new law school. It certainly should be easier to craft an educational curriculum that approaches legal education differently at a place where folks have not had a chance to become entrenched. Your description of the new faculty suggests that they are many of the usual suspects. Since the teachers have to come from somewhere, they might as well bring good reputations with them. However, innovation requires good ideas in addition to good reputations.

    I don’t believe that innovation in legal education requires a brand new law school. It needs a brand new semester. When talking about possibilities for reform with some legal educators, and discussing examples of schools that have shown leadership in innovation, a common response I hear is, “well yes, but school xxx was able to do that because it was in a unique position because of xxx.”

    Every law school is unique because of its financial, intellectual and political resources. What makes the innovative schools special is that their faculties have a willingness to change and move into the future. I hope UC-Irvine is one of them, and that more schools continue to show leadership in innovation.

  2. Dean Chemerinsky has asked me to post this response to your earlier blog about UC Irvine School of Law:

    Professor Stuckey asked for details about the curriculum at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. I am delighted to respond briefly. Our initial focus was on the first-year curriculum since we began this year with 60 first year students.

    A core aspect of the first-year curriculum is a six-unit course, three units each semester, on lawyering skills. The focus is on problem solving and the goal is to teach basic skills that all lawyers use in practicing law. In addition to writing and researching, students receive instruction in skills such as negotiation, interviewing, and fact investigation. All of the students will be required to do in-take interviews at a legal aid or public defender’s office.

    Another key part of the first-year curriculum is a two-semester, four-unit course on the legal profession. In addition to learning about ethics and professionalism, the goal is teaching students about the economy, psychology, and sociology of the practice of law. Panels of attorneys through the year speak about specific practice areas. Each student is paired with an experienced lawyer mentor, and must spend a minimum of 25 hours over the course of the year following the lawyer to get a sense of what lawyers actually do. Each student also is required to spend time in both a trial court and an appellate court.

    The remainder of the first-year curriculum is organized around methods of analysis. Law schools often say that they are teaching students to think like lawyers, but what does that mean? In the fall, our students take a course called Common Law Analysis: Private Ordering, which seeks to teach the common law method using contracts as a primary example. In the spring, the students will take Common Law Analysis: Public Ordering, which seeks to teach the common law method using torts as a primary example.

    In the fall, students also take Statutory Analysis, which uses criminal law with the goal of teaching how to interpret and argue about statutes. The final course in the fall is Procedural Analysis, which is primarily about civil procedure, but which covers procedural rules more generally.

    In the spring semester, in addition to the classes mentioned above, students take Constitutional Analysis and also International Legal Analysis. Each is in the first year because it reflects a different type of legal analysis and argument.

    The faculty is now working on the upper-level curriculum. The only requirements will be a major writing project and also a one- or two-semester clinic. I strongly believe in experiential learning and think that all students, regardless of their interests, can benefit from participating in a clinic and practicing under careful supervision.

    We are now in the project of creating clinics and will do so over the next several years. Professor Stuckey objects that an article refers to our faculty as “clinicians” rather than “members of the faculty who happen to teach clinical courses.” We have worked hard to break down distinctions among faculty. All faculty have offices together; there is no physical separation of clinical faculty. All faculty, including those whose primary teaching responsibility is in the clinic, are eligible for tenure, which means that they cannot be terminated without cause and without procedural protections. All faculty vote on all matters, although by University rules, only those with academic tenure can vote on tenure decisions.

    The faculty is in the midst of detailed discussions about the upper-level curriculum. My own hope is that the second year will involve students participating in simulations, followed by representing clients in the third year. I would like to see us build practicums and skills components into traditional doctrinal courses.

    Finally, Professor Stuckey says that there is no mention on the web site of the faculty being excellent teachers. A large number of our faculty members have received teaching awards at other schools before coming to UCI. I think many who have received these awards mention them in their biographies on the web site. I have heard consistent rave reviews from the students about their first-semester faculty.

    I realize that this short description only begins to describe where we are in designing a curriculum and creating a new law school. I think that we have the chance to create a very special law school, and I am delighted to be part of it.

    –Erwin Chemerinsky

  3. Having read the description of UCI’s first year curriculum, I think framing the traditional doctrinal courses in terms of modes of analysis is intriguing; however, I would like to hear more about the strategies the faculty will use to deliver the upper level curriculum, presumably after students have been exposed to several courses worth of problem solving skills. Will the upper level curriculum follow the 1L strategies?

    Also, I notice that property has not yet been accounted for in the curriculum. What, if any, was the thought behind omitting property from the first year course of study?

    Can’t wait to hear more about these exciting developments.

  4. ohh…nice article but truly?/? 😛

    • I have every confidence that UC Irvine will revolutionize legal education. And frankly, I do think that it requires a new law school with visionary leadership and faculty who are not ‘entrenched’ in the institutions in which they work. As the former Director of Stanford, Penn and Yale Law School’s Public Service Program, I think I’m a unique position to comment on this. All of these law schools have impressive Clinical Programs; Penn has an outstanding pro bono program and two of three law schools has a “Public Interest Center.” And all of these schools have a core group of faculty who are devoted to best practices.

      That having been said, at none of these law schools, is ‘experiential learning’ at the core foundation of their formation. Moreover, at these and most law schools there are bitter debates among clinicans and ‘stand-up’ faculty and even among clinicians and pro bono coordinators.

      What Erwin has done is sheer genius. He has not only recruited some of the leading scholars (which Roy Stuckey acknowledges), but he has recruited professors who are devoted to the practice of law and experiential learning. No small task. These faculty left ‘elite’ institutions (where all too often experiential learning, pro bono and clinics are marginalized), to devote their careers towards developing a law school that embodies the principles that they believe in.

      And in one year, thay have shown us what can be accomplished by a visionary dean and an extraordinary faculty. A first year curriculum which is infused with skills learning; mandatory clinics; and a clear commitment to the ideals of integrating service into the entire curriculum.

      What is not to like? Is there another law school in the country that can make that claim? Northeastern, CUNY and DC law schools are all extraordinary examples of law schools with a ‘social justice mission.’ And as a Northeasteren graduate, I will forever be grateful for the ‘skills training’ that was inherent to the curriculum. But my sense is that Irvine’s vision is far broader than that. Irwin is building an institution where innvoative teaching, experiential learning, and clinics pervade the entire law school — from staff, to student, and faculty.

      What’s not to like??

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