Surpassing the bar

Since the UC Irvine School of Law opened in August 2009, it has become apparent that it's run a bit differently than more established institutions such as Yale or Harvard.

Jars of candy can be found throughout the school, which occupies two conjoined block buildings that once housed a fitness center. Barbecues and buffets are common at law school gatherings. Founding Dean Erwin Chemerinsky — the esteemed constitutional scholar who has waxed eloquent on op-ed pages and argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court (including a free-speech case in December) — has been spotted climbing the school's outdoor stairwell toting not a briefcase or a heavy law book but a case of soft drinks.

Plying people with snacks and sodas is just one small way the dean has sought to create a close community. "Law schools are not known for being warm and nurturing," Chemerinsky notes. Though they may seem minor, homey touches like wellstocked candy jars send an important message: This is not a cold, uncaring environment. And students, faculty and staff are thriving.

In its short history, the law school has become a top performer, garnering a long list of achievements. Its faculty of leading legal minds has been ranked seventh in the nation. Its 2012 graduates were second only to those from Stanford in passing the state bar on the first try. And the school was recently granted full accreditation by the American Bar Association.

Making the case for excellence

Despite its relatively short existence, the UC Irvine School of Law ranks right up there with prestigious big-name institutions in a number of key areas. Among its noteworthy accomplishments:

  • Ninety percent of the 58-member inaugural class of 2012 passed the California bar exam on the first try, a rate second only to Stanford.
  • UC Irvine placed 11th among U.S. law schools for having the highest percentage of 2012 graduates who landed long-term, full-time jobs requiring bar passage. (Of the top 20 schools making the list, only seven are public.)
  • One measure of graduates' potential impact on the legal profession is the number who go on to clerk for state and federal judges. UC Irvine ranked second only to Yale in placing the largest percentage of 2012 graduates in highly coveted federal clerkships, according to The National Law Journal.
  • The UC Irvine law faculty was seventh in the nation for scholarly impact between 2007 and 2011, according to Brian Leiter's Law School Rankings.
  • Law students at UC Irvine average more than 100 hours of pro bono work each, establishing the school as a champion of public service. Students are encouraged, but not required, to participate and receive no course credit or compensation. Among 2013 graduates, 91 percent reached recommended goals (20 hours for first-year students, 50 for second- and third-year students).

— Kathryn Bold/UC Irvine

Dean Erwin Chemerinsky teaches an advanced course in constitutional law and procedure at UC Irvine's School of Law.
Photo: Steve Zylius/UC Irvine

Dean Erwin Chemerinsky teaches an advanced course in constitutional law and procedure at UC Irvine's School of Law.

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