Founding Ideals and Future Challenges

Michael Klinger
J.D. Candidate 2013, UCI Law

In my 1L year, I had the opportunity to write in Vol. 1, Issue 1 of uRSA Voice about why I had chosen to attend UCI Law. I wrote about how I was excited to be surrounded by motivated students who want to be pioneers in a brand new program and committed to creating a new kind of law school. In my 2L year, (Vol. 2, No. 5), I wrote about two things: first, I wrote about the freedom I felt knowing that our school was still unranked by US News & World Report. Second, I wrote about the Law Review as a site of progressive reform in legal education.

This year, it is bittersweet to have the opportunity to write for the last time as a student and to reflect again on the community I’ve been privileged to join and to help build over these past three years. I want to tie all three of these themes together.

As I write, an important debate is going on. It is a debate about innovation, conservatism, hierarchy, and engagement. It takes form in countless ways (in course offerings, faculty hiring, student recruitment, etc.), and it presents multiple opportunities for us to rally around and reaffirm the ideals on which the school was founded.

One site of this debate—a site that is important to me—is the Law Review. There, we have tried to maintain a balance between a management structure that can run a large organization while minimizing the creation of needless status or hierarchy among peers. It is not a perfect organization, and it is the important task of each successive class to improve it.

Some students believe that, to improve, the Law Review will require the type of leadership structure that most other law reviews have—specifically, that the law review needs to have an Editor in Chief in order to function.

For those of us who believe that we have only a fleeting and fragile opportunity to ask critically about the many ways that law schools—famously and needlessly—instantiate and recreate hierarchies, this seems like a big step in the wrong direction.

Our chance is fleeting because we will soon be officially ranked by US News, and with our ranking (wherever that should be) will come tremendous pressure to maintain or improve our standing. This pressure is unfortunate, and will pull at our community in trying ways, many of which will be unhelpful to the project of meaningful innovation.

Our chance is fragile because with each new class the connection that our community feels to the founding ideals of the school becomes more tenuous. We will have students who choose UCI not because it can be a site of innovation or change, but because it is all the other things we know it to be—a wonderful law school with an incredible faculty and a supportive administration.

Our challenge is to hold on to our ideals and our innovative spirit, and to help each of our colleagues understand the opportunity we each have—to think critically, to embrace our ideals, and to continue forging a powerful community for innovation and professionalism. There will be constant temptations to conform, to tailor our school to the demands of the rankings, and to temper our critiques of the status quo to make them palatable to a conservative profession.

Our culture, as it was formed, included an important strain of resistance to that conservatism. I hope that this young community will continue to overcome these temptations, and I look forward to celebrating our successes in this regard for many years to come.