Class of 2016
I first applied to law school in the final months of 2010. Not for any good reason. I was waiting to hear back from the Peace Corps (it had been several months and counting), and as the prospect of rejection loomed larger and larger I felt that I needed to adopt a plan B. I had worked at a litigation consulting firm for almost two years and had worked briefly at a law firm after that, so law school seemed like a natural, if unsatisfying, next step. The truth was I really didn’t want to be a lawyer. The profession seemed incredibly boring, the work appeared to be meaningless paper-pushing, and the people struck me as shallow and duplicitous. No one in my family was a lawyer, and none of my friends were lawyers. My friends who had gone to law school had nothing good to say about it, and the New York Times had just published a series of articles explaining why law school was a terrible investment. When I received my Peace Corps assignment in January 2011 I thought I would never think about law school again.
Strangely enough, two years later I found myself applying, again, to law school. The second time around was different. I felt that I was applying with a sense of purpose. During my service I met a number of people who had spent their lives dedicated to community and economic development, not just abroad, but back in the United States as well. In their stories, time and again, one of their methods of effecting change was through political and legal advocacy. It had never occurred to me that lawyers could do positive things. I was aware of things like Brown v. Board of Education or Roe v. Wade, but I guess I never stopped to think that lawyers were involved in making those cases happen. And so, with an LSAT score that was still valid for a couple more years, I started looking at schools again.
And I settled on one. When I first applied to law school back in 2010 I didn’t give UCI a single thought. New and unranked, it struck me as a desperation play for people who couldn’t get into a real law school. I never even bothered to look at its website. But all the reasons that made me dismiss the school in 2010, were the exact reasons I couldn’t think of any other school in 2012. It was new and unranked. It had no alumni, no history, and no traditions. It seemed like an incredible opportunity, not only to be a part of history, but to make it. When I sifted through the school’s website I was pleased to find that it seemed to be public interest oriented in its mission and dedicated to producing socially conscious lawyers with the ability to start practicing right away. No other school in the country could make the same case for itself.
It was risky, and in hindsight I think my research was less thorough than it should have been. Although I had done research on UCI, there was also a lot I didn’t do. I had no clue about any of the faculty. I did not contact the admissions office for any information, and I did not try to find any current students to ask about their experiences. I did not go to ASW. I made my one and only campus visit in July 2013, less than one month before school was supposed to start. But three years later, I can say with no reservations that UCI lived up to every single one of my expectations and exceeded them. The question is, where do we go from here?
During our time at UCI, the school has taken significant steps towards achieving the goals it set for itself when it was founded. The school is fully accredited. The school is ranked. But however the school develops in the coming years, one thing is certain: it will no longer be new, it will no longer be a place to be built. With each milestone the school reaches it loses some of the qualities that made it so attractive to students like me in the first place. At some point, it will no longer be the blank slate upon which professors and students can place their hopes and dreams. The school will be built. It will have a culture, traditions, and a reputation. When that happens, what kind of school will it be? Just another top 20 school? Don’t we already have those?
Graduation is not an end to our efforts at making this school the kind of school we want it to be. The true test of whether UCI will be a different law school will be in how its students go on to be members of the legal community. And for that we need more than for alumni to become partners or professors or judges. We need more than for alumni to become even public interest lawyers or radical social advocates. All of these things existed before UCI Law. I always understood the idea behind this school to be that we want and need a different kind of big law attorney, a different kind of cause lawyer, a different kind of advocate; one who recognizes the role he or she plays as a lawyer, not just for the client, but for society at large. And recognizing that role, has the courage to act on it and the creativity to make it work.
I sincerely hope that as we enter the workforce and as the years take us further and further away from our time in law school, that we not lose the part of ourselves that compelled us to choose an unaccredited, unranked school in the first place. That our successes don’t leave us complacent. That the compliments don’t blunt our drive. I like to believe that we chose to come to UCI to be a different kind of lawyer. I’d like even better to prove it.