An Innovative Approach to Legal Education and the Founding of the University of California, Irvine School of Law
THE PARADOX OF PROFESSIONALISM: LAWYERS AND THE POSSIBILITY OF JUSTICE, Scott L. Cummings, ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011
27 Pages Posted: 26 May 2011
Can American legal education be reformed? Since the inception of the modern, American law school in the late nineteenth century, analysts have claimed that there is a "crisis" in legal education and called for reform. Indeed, one might argue that "crisis" and "reform" have themselves been institutionalized in American legal education.
Housed in large, research-oriented universities, the fundamental tension in elite legal education, like the tension in all professional education, revolves around the theory-practice conundrum: while the vast majority of students come to learn the practice of law, faculty are committed to thinking and writing about law’s meaning and role in society. The institutionalization of a full-time, academic professoriate further contributes to the second-class status of practice.
Against this backdrop, in 2010, the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine admitted its inaugural class of students. With the leadership of Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, the founding faculty have developed an innovative curriculum for this and all subsequent cohorts. The School’s website explains, "[u]nlike most law schools, we will infuse each of a law student’s three years with hands-on experiential learning. Our students will learn by doing, performing the tasks of lawyers under the close supervision of some of the best professors in the country". At UCI School of Law, the goals are (1) to balance the teaching of theory and practice and (2) to be ranked among the top law schools in the United States.
Despite the fact that the Law School begins with a clean slate, it nonetheless faces institutional pressures to conform to the taken-for-granted emphases of American legal education; these institutional pressures toward conformity include, for example, the dominant markers of prestige among elite law schools, the practical demands of accreditation, the mechanisms of social control posed by national reporting on rankings as well as the budgetary constraints posed by the allocation of resources and personnel.
In this paper we describe the School of Law’s innovative game plan for legal education in the context of broader developments in American legal education and speculate on the question, what are the chances for success?
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