A Modest Proposal: Make UCI Law Free

Alisa Hartz1
J.D. Candidate 2012, UCI Law

In a recent discussion about our class gift, the Class of 2012 learned that for us to fund a single three-year scholarship for one law student at UCI, we would each need to contribute $500 every year for five years.2 To a law student, $500 a year sounds like a lot of money.  But even with all of us being that generous, it would take us five years—that’s as long as law school plus a 4L and a 5L year, perish the thought—to raise enough money to fund a single student.

The remarkable thing about this calculation is what it says about what we have received.  The inaugural class alone has received over seven million dollars in scholarships. The first three classes put together will have received over fifteen million dollars.3

The inaugural class can testify that a full ride to law school is pretty wonderful.  Unburdened by the prospect of over a hundred thousand dollars in debt,4 we can make our own choices guided by commitments and conscience. We all have different kinds of personal constraints, obligations, and interests, but as a group we have more power of self-determination than any law school class in the country. This feels like it makes a difference in our student culture, since we share a strong sense of the freedom and responsibility that come with such opportunity.

What if our class gift were this: start a student culture that would make law school free for all future UCI Law students. Here are some ways it could work:

1. Starting with the inaugural class, each UCI Law alumnus will donate $4,000 each year.

Law school at UCI costs around $150,000.5 For me to repay my scholarship in forty years, I would have to pay just under $4,000 a year. If all UCI Law alumni made this kind of commitment (indexed for inflation), in forty years the law school, in a stable state of around 250 students per class, will be entirely free.

Four thousand dollars a year may sound like a lot, but it’s much better than a typical loan for many reasons.  Not only is there no accumulated interest, but our “loan repayments” are also tax deductible as charitable contributions.  Even more importantly, we would know that our money is supporting the next crop of UCI Law students, letting them become whatever kind of lawyer they want to be.

$4,000: a small price to pay for a utopian law school!

2.  One of us could donate a billion and a half dollars, which, earning interest at 2.5%, would cover the annual fees for a law school with a class size of 250.

This year there are 413 billionaires in the United States,6 which has a population of 312 million people.7 This means that more than one in a million Americans is a billionaire.  Thirty-eight of those billionaires are lawyers, meaning that lawyers are almost forty times as likely to be a billionaire as the average American.8

Brute probability says that in the next 100 years, a UCI Law grad will become a billionaire.9 And we all know that UCI Law students are extraordinary, so the real probability is doubtless much higher than that.  Look around you now: which one of us will it be?  Let’s all take the billionaire’s pledge.

3. Innovative business initiatives

If student tuition costs are an indication of the amount of money the law school needs to function,10 when UCI law reaches 750 students, it will need $37,500,000 annually to operate, or about $100,000 a day.  How about a massive perpetual bake sale?  It would need to corner a large percentage of the California bakery market, but we have some very talented bakers amongst us as well as a number of budding entrepreneurs.  Or what about UCI Law: The Vampire Movie?  Last year, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse grossed over three hundred million dollars,11 so if every year we make a vampire movie that’s only one tenth as good as Twilight, UCI Law will be free for everyone.  Or, if we don’t want to go to the trouble of making a movie every year, we could make Lawyers of the Caribbean and get the 1.5 billion we need in one fell swoop.

The Class of 2012 didn’t choose to attend UCI Law because of the scholarships,12 but it is undeniable that these scholarships have had an important impact on our student culture and will continue to shape us and our careers in the coming years.  We should aspire to give as many students as possible a similar gift and to make this our class legacy.  This kind of gift will be self-perpetuating.  As the Class of 2012 knows, there is nothing like receiving a gift to teach you to be generous.

1. I take full responsibility for any errors, but credit for the basic ideas and calculations goes to John Flynn.

2. $50,000 (rough annual fees) x 3 (years of law school) = $150,000 / 5 (years) = $30,000 / 59 (Class of 2012 students) = $509 per year per student.

3. These are rough, conservative calculations, based on the California resident tuition.

4. An ABA report stated that “An average student considering enrolling in law school now should thus expect to graduate with debt well in excess of $100,000.” http://qa.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/lsd/legaled/value.authcheckdam.pdf

5. http://reg.uci.edu/fees/2011-2012/law.html. “Over the last twenty-five years, law school tuition has consistently risen two times as fast as inflation.” http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/lsd/legaled/value.authcheckdam.pdf

9. Lawyers have a 1 in 250,000 chance of becoming a billionaire, so in 100 years, when UCI Law has  250,000 alumni, chances are that one of us will be a billionaire.  If you want to know more about this calculation, you will have to buy John a beer and ask him.

10. Does tuition reflect cost? Law school tuition costs have risen at twice the rate of inflation in the past two decades.

12. The tuition scholarship ranked forth among reasons for choosing UCI Law, behind the reputation of the dean and the faculty and the student-faculty ratio.  See Caroll Seron, A Law School for the Twenty-First Century: A Portrait of the Inaugural Class at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, 1 U.C. Irvine L.Rev. 49, 56.  http://www.law.uci.edu/lawreview/Vol1No1Articles/seron.pdf