Monday, August 27, 2012
Why UC Irvine Went Wrong: Chasing Prestige at the Expense of Public Service
Five years ago, when it was announced that UC Irvine would open a new law school, many critics asked why. With a surplus of law schools already, California had no need for another one. The justification offered was that Irvine would be different. “We have the chance to build something very special: the ideal law school for the 21st century,” said founding Dean Erwin Chemerinsky. “We have a wonderful opportunity in that we have a blank slate.” Irvine, he proclaimed, would be a law school oriented to public service. The school was given a great boost when a local businessman donated $20 million for the start-up.
What exactly do you mean by "public service"? A lot of lawyers work for the government writing new laws, regulations or bringing enforcement actions, and then go into the private sector where they make a lot of money representing private clients with respect to the same issues. One might suspect that the "public service" has as much to do with the lawyer's future earning potential as with the interest of the public.
Some immediate counterpoints come to mind.
Dean Chemerinsky's effort has brought at least one of the most brilliant minds in modern government and political science to his new department. I am not familiar with the entire faculty of UCI Law. If my progeny were to have the privilege of studying with this above-referenced, unnamed, prof, the investment in that superb quality teaching would be worth the extra cost.
UCI's policies concerning financial assistance need to be part of the equation of valuing the new department. Are there ways besides blanket loans, for students there to finance education in the new department?
Viewing the Irvine campus in the historical spectrum, I was quite pleased at the time the new law faculty leadership was selected. Having an important modern mind guiding the department enriches the entire campus.
And bright kids will gravitate to UCI.
Also, these young people vote while in college. And that section of the state of California could benefit from the polity issuing from that sort of new votership.
There are many ways of viewing the positives in what UCI, and UCI Law individually, are accomplishing.
However, I admit, if I were selecting a law school now, I still would weigh factors like what the best competition offers at other law schools. My own selection criteria would include both the financial assistance available, and the esthetic existence in the community in which the school is located, as life beyond the campus is part of the experience of education.
Yet, perhaps I have perused too much of the comedic law writer Lithwick! A renowned paragraph that D Lithwick wrote begins, "I had, for the first six months of law school, only one vector. I traveled from the dorms to the law school. After breakfast in the dorms I went to class in the law library, and from there I went to dinner in the dorms, which led inexorably to an evening in the law library." The rest of DL's essay is there:
from an article published in 2002.
If things are as bad as Prof. Tamanaha says,
"Students with debt that large are compelled by financial necessity to pursue corporate law jobs. Although public service jobs are eligible for a federal program that reduces monthly loan payments and forgives the remaining debt after 10 years, heavily indebted law students would take a huge risk to pass up a corporate law job, which is obtained though interviews in the fall of the second year, in the hope that they might later land a public service job, which is obtained near or after graduation."
then the prudent law student will turn down the inadequate corporate law job and wait to land the public service job that will trigger the loan forgiveness. Graduating from a top-20 law school will make that prospective public servant all that more attractive to public service employers. If Irvine manages to turn out a generation of bright legal aid lawyers, more power to it.
The loan forgiveness is for federal loans only. It doesn't cover private loans, which make up about 80% of my loans.
As a public interest lawyer making 50k a year 5 years out of law school, I simply can't afford to raise my 2-year old son at this salary when half of my after-tax income goes to loan payments and the other half to health insurance.
Working for cause is its own reward, and I don't want or need many things. And I freely chose to sacrifice comfortable life to work at this job. And my wife married me knowing fully well all the sacrifices demanded of my job.
With my son in the picture, however, I don't think I can be in public interest any more. I should have known that only well-paid attorneys and law professors can afford to have a child.
No, I don't believe that having my son was a mistake. But thinking that I could make little money working for some just cause and have a "normal" life was.
I have believed for a while that UCI is doomed because they are chasing the same dragons as everyone else. They are assuming that the employment they need to place their class into is biglaw and prestigious PI and government, and have arranged the school in order to meet those goals. In order to do this, they need a high caliber of student, driven by a high investment in the USNWR factors, which requires a high tuition. While this may have been more successful in 2005, students are much more price sensitive now, and those high-160 students UCI needs to debut as a top 20 school are choosing to go to lower ranked schools on full scholarship or, in many cases, forgo law school altogether. Unfortunately, UCI needs much higher revenues that it is getting to maintain their expenses. They will have to increase class size and tuition. It is much easier for UCI faculty members to place 60 students with T14 numbers than 200 students with T30 numbers. The market does not need another 50K per year T40 school.
CUNY Law provides a low-cost, public school legal education for about 13K in tuition per year. CUNY makes no bones about the kind of school it wants to be. They are a public sector school whose graduates are chasing kinds of public sector employment that it is reasonable for students outside the top 10 schools to chase. Not federal government honors programs or the ACLU fellowships, but DAs, PDs, local government, direct legal services, trial court clerkships. Not something the pedigreed faculty would consider "prestigious" but real lawyer work for real people. If they don't get those jobs, their debt loads make it easier to take low paid private sector employment in practice areas serving the middle and lower middle classes, such as immigration, criminal law, consumer debt, etc.
So, a smart plan would have been to set tuition low enough to graduate students with 50K of debt. You target students with demonstrated public interest backgrounds. You hire adjuncts from small and medium sized firms as well as DA and PD offices. Your career services department reaches out to local firms to place students in internships or law clerkships during the year. Then, you've created a true public interest school.
In trying to build a Law School for the 21st Century - Chemerinsky built a law school for the 20th Century.
It is failure of imagination and wasted opportunity for REAL innovation in legal education.
Starting from scratch with a strong brand like UC-Irvine he tried (or ended up) building a liberal arts style law school rather than the polytechnic law school that is needed in the 21st Century.
At its core, the goal of a professional school is training students for success in professional careers in the relevant employment market. That starts with providing the sort of theoretical + skills training that can help them land JOBS.
The market simply did not need another Swarthmore Style School of Law -- it needed an MIT School of Law.
Note: Please dont give me the whole "practice v. theory" debate - it is tiresome and not applicable. Why ? - because no one would accuse MIT of not be a place where theory is taught. The question is what theory folks actually need to learn to be successful professionals.
Probably less Foucault and more Claude Shannon :)
See more of my thoughts on this questions here:
Daniel Martin Katz
Your contents are too simple to read and easy to understand.
continue reading this
He does answer why it was necessary to create a top 20 law school. He says it was necessary to get students jobs.
My guess is you don't deny that, as a descriptive matter, he did what he had to do to create a school that gets most of its students good law jobs. Your point is a prescriptive one--that it would be better if we didn't pay faculty so much, since then a top school would cost students less.
I agree. I think $300,000 is far too much to pay a law professor. (I am a professor and I make 1/3 of that.) But how do we change the market for top professors?
Hurrah! It's about time for publication of an erudite and well argued yet accessible book that connects the dots from our overly revered Constitution to the political gridlock of the moment. And, I'm so glad that Levinson is spreading the word about his latest contribution.v-checker scanner
Dean Chemerinsky's rebuttal depends on the false--but widely accepted--assumption that the quality of legal education is determined by two things: (1) the frequency of citation in law review articles of other articles written by a school's faculty in a marketplace whose only consumers are authors scrambling to get published--and cited--themselves; and (2) the test-taking skills of the students it admits or, to be more precise, the high level of test-taking skills of those to whom it can refuse admission.
The Dean's desire to move legal education toward preparing students for practice and emphasizing public service is commendable, but he has drunk the Kool-Aid that drains the life out of real reform.
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