Ever since the UC Irvine School of Law opened its doors in 2009, the fledgling institution has been garnering rave reviews. It has already been labelled one of the most selective schools in the country. Every single member of its inaugural class had a job last summer. And that same first class goes to school for free.

Over the weekend, the emerging West Coast powerhouse added a new impressive statistic to its quickly filling trophy case. This year, the school boasts one of the highest federal clerkship placement rates in the country.

Keep reading to see which elite law schools have been edged out by UC Irvine….

Thomson Reuters News and Insight has the scoop:

Every year, thousands of third-year law students across the country apply for coveted federal judicial clerkships, and every year, the same law schools — Yale, Stanford, and Harvard — top the list of those whose graduates populate federal judges’ chambers.

But for the class of 2012, which began receiving its clerkship offers this fall, a new name has muscled in among the elite old guard: The University of California at Irvine School of Law, which only opened its doors in 2009 and is still waiting on full accreditation by the American Bar Association.

Despite not yet having bestowed a single law degree, UC Irvine says it has placed nearly a fifth of its 2012 graduates with district and circuit court judges. That rate was recently surpassed only by Yale, with 27 percent, and Stanford, with 24 percent, according to the latest figures from U.S. News & World Report, which tracks clerkship placement.

Had it been ranked, Irvine would have placed ahead of Harvard, which landed 18 percent of its graduates in federal clerkships in 2009.

To recap, a brand-new public law school that doesn’t charge exorbitant tuition, has not yet handed out a single degree, and isn’t ranked or even fully accredited, is placing as many or more of its students in federal clerkships as Harvard, Yale and Stanford.

This news is so impressive, it almost makes me want to go to law school.

According to an official press release, 14 members of the (relatively small) 58-member class of 2012 have accepted federal clerkships. The students will be clerking for federal judges in the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Ninth Circuits, along with eight federal trial judges.

As we’ve mentioned before, competition for these positions is a wee bit crazy. It usually takes a lot more time to build this sort of program. According to Reuters, Irvine can chalk up its early successes to two familiar factors: “money and influence.” These factors enabled UCI Law to attract top-notch students, through generous scholarship support.

Because the law school only gets 13% of its funding from the state, it began a massive fundraising campaign in 2007, securing some high-profile benefactors:

[T]he school raised $30 million in private donations over a three-year campaign beginning in 2007, and plans to raise an additional $70 million over the next five years, Cannon said. Among the largest gifts are contributions of $20 million from the Donald Bren Foundation and gifts of more than $100,000 each from dozens of law firms, including Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and O’Melveny & Myers.

And Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, a prominent constitutional scholar and Harvard Law alumnus, told Reuters that he has made judicial clerkships a focus of his tenure.

It will be interesting to see if the school can keep posting these MVP stats:

[I]t remains to be seen whether the school will keep up its clerkship-placement success as its acceptance rate rises. For the class of 2013, the school provided 50-percent scholarships, and its acceptance rate was 18 percent. The class of 2014 received 33-percent scholarships, and its rate was just under 24 percent. But LSAT scores for the classes of 2013 and 2014 stayed the same as those of the inaugural class.

Elizabeth Schroeder, the law school’s dean of students, said the class of 2013 “is performing on target with the first class, and we expect them to do as well” in clerkship placement.

Congratulations to UC Irvine’s new clerks. I think we will be seeing a lot more like you in the future.

Yale, Harvard, Stanford … UC Irvine? [Thomson Reuters News and Insight]


Christopher Danzig is a writer in Oakland, California. He covers legal technology and the West Coast for Above the Law. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisdanzig or email him at cdanzig@gmail.com. You can read more of his work at chrisdanzig.com.


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