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.