In a world where there are already too many law degrees flooding the market and allowing firms to handle their associates like fungible assets, the new law school at UC Irvine continues to rake in positive press. We’ve previously noted that the new law school is already one of the most selective in the country. Today, the L.A. Times positively gushes about the new public law school:
In a challenging fundraising climate, the first new public law school in California in more than a generation begins classes Monday at UC Irvine with 61 top-flight students, a highly regarded faculty and the goal of becoming a model for an innovative legal education emphasizing hands-on experience and public service.
It appears prestige isn’t just conferred by a magazine.
Brian Leiter, a University of Chicago law professor and author of an influential blog on legal education, said that, based on the quality of its faculty and the entrance exam scores of its first class, UCI should be ranked among the nation’s top 20 law schools, status that typically takes a new school decades to achieve.
“It’s quite unusual. But this is an unusual situation,” Leiter said. “This is the University of California, after all, which is a big selling point. They’ve recruited the right kind of people from the right kind of places. And the fact that someone of Erwin [Chemerinsky]‘s stature is the dean obviously helps.”
The school touts a commitment to public service that you don’t often hear from law schools. It also touts free tuition, which sounds like the Gods are having an orgasm to law students hoping to keep their debts under control.
After the jump we ask if UCI Law can keep it up. And an update on potential future tuition decisions.
Yesterday, I argued that student loan bailout would allow law students to take lower paying jobs working for the public good. But since the federal government refuses to return my phone calls, it is nice to see a public law school decide to give qualified applicants some much needed debt relief:
With a $20-million donation from [Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren], UCI was able to provide full scholarships to its entire inaugural class. The offer led to a flood of applicants — unusual for an untested school in a profession in which pedigree counts. That allowed UCI to be highly selective in admissions, further burnishing its image. At roughly $100,000 per student, the scholarships amounted to a $6-million gamble that paid off, Leiter said.
But is UCI Law’s offer of free tuition indicative of a larger commitment to keep costs down for its students, or is it a publicity stunt?
In all, the school has raised $27 million, including $2 million for an environmental law clinic from a donor who asked to remain anonymous. The goal is for the school to grow to 600 students and be self-supported by tuition. But until that happens, millions more will need to be raised amid the deepest recession in decades.
“The economy is the question mark over the whole enterprise,” said Leiter, who said he believes that job cuts at law firms nationwide may lead to some law schools closing. “There’s nothing certain here.”
Fine. It’s unreasonable to expect the law school to operate indefinitely on a free tuition scheme. But once they do start charging, will they keep costs low? Earlier this month, the National Law Journal reported that all of the other law schools in the UC system are raising tuition in the middle of the recession by 10% or more.
Hopefully, UCI Law will continue to provide an environment where willing students can take low income jobs upon graduation.
Update (2:58):One tipster got his hands on a California educational policy memo from this spring. The memo contemplates the future tuition at UCI Law and the other UC schools. The numbers do not look pretty:
These figures were prepared by the California Committees on Educational Policy and Finance.
UCI Law has status, not tradition [L.A. Times]
Resolved: We Need A Student Loan Bailout [The Stimulist]
At public law schools, tuition jumps sharply [National Law Journal]
Earlier: Public Law School Tuition On The Rise
UC Irvine School of Law Claims ‘Most Selective’ Status
Open Thread: Free Law School in California