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November 9, 2012

Law school grads find supply exceeds demand for new lawyers

Erwin Chemerinsky is a noted constitutional law scholar who has devoted his career to legal education. He is also the founding dean of the law school at the University of California at Irvine. Chemerinsky's new school opened in 2009, amid the financial crisis and a related — and perhaps permanent — sharp constriction in the job market for new lawyers.

Though the University of California has four well-established law schools, Chemerinsky says UC-Irvine's program fills an unmet need. Irvine, he says, "puts far more emphasis on preparing students to be lawyers at the highest level of the profession than perhaps other law schools."

To do that, Irvine needed top-flight facilities and professors. Price, seemingly, is no object. UC-Irvine, a public university, offers the second-most-expensive legal education in the country. At more than $77,000 a year including living expenses, a JD from Irvine tops the bill from Harvard, Yale or Stanford. Only the University of California at Berkeley, at almost $78,000, costs more.

Chemerinsky seems untroubled by this, arguing in an interview that Irvine is no more expensive than Stanford or the University of Southern California, really. He highlights the success of his first class of 56 students, which graduated in May. Nearly 80 percent have already found full-time jobs as lawyers. Excellence costs, he says, and, by implication, excellence pays.

"If we are not going to be subsidized by the state" at previous levels, Chemerinsky says, "and we are going to be a top-quality law school, there is not an alternative in terms of what it is going to cost. Everybody wishes it would be less expensive. But there is not a way to do it without compromising quality."

There are a few other recent statistics that Chemerinsky and his colleagues at the nation's law schools might want to bring into sharper focus.

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