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UCI law school beats UCLA, Berkeley on bar exam
By SCOTT MARTINDALE



IRVINE – The inaugural graduating class of UC Irvine's law school has bested every law school in California except Stanford with a state bar exam pass rate of 90 percent this year, but observers say the fledgling institution still has big hills to climb as it works toward becoming a top 20 U.S. law school.

UC Irvine beat No. 7-ranked UC Berkeley, which posted an 86 percent pass rate for first-time test takers, and No. 15-ranked UCLA, with an 89 pass rate, according to newly released data from the July 2012 administration of the California bar exam. Stanford's state bar pass rate was 94 percent.

Even so, the bar exam pass rate counts for just 2 percent of a school's overall score in the rankings developed by U.S. News & World Report magazine. UCI law school officials have proclaimed they want to clinch a spot in the magazine's top 20 list when UCI is ranked for the first time in 2015.

"Anything is possible, but it would be a pretty big leap," said Robert Morse of U.S. News & World Report, who developed the magazine's ranking methodology.

Forty percent of a school's score is dependent on its reputation in the U.S. legal community, according to the magazine. Surveys are sent each year to law school administrators, tenured law faculty, judges, attorneys general, law partners and other practicing attorneys asking them to rate schools on a 1-5 scale.

"If it's not as well known, then the people doing the survey don't know it, so how can they rate it highly?" said Morse, U.S. News' data research director. UC Irvine "has a microscopic number of grads, so their reputation as practitioners is not going to be known."

Yale was U.S. News' top-ranked law school last year; Stanford was No. 2.

UCI officials, for their part, say they remain confident about the program's strength, especially in light of the school's ability to uphold high admission standards over the past four years.

In its first year, UCI awarded full-tuition scholarships to every student for all three years; in its second and third years, every student received half-tuition and one-third-tuition scholarships, respectively. Now many students in the newest law class are paying full price.

"We set the quality level for our school and kept it for the next few years, even though we no longer give scholarships across the board," law school Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said.

The GPA and LSAT scores of UCI's entering students have largely held steady over the past four years, according to school data.

And although the number of students applying to UCI dipped in 2010 and 2011, that figure went back up in 2012.

Acceptance rates count for 2.5 percent of a school's U.S. News rating, while GPA and LSAT scores count for 22.5 percent.

Already, UCI's law school has gained some national recognition. In July, it was ranked No. 7 in the nation for the "scholarly impact" of its faculty, according to a University of Chicago study. The study measured the number of times faculty members were cited in legal literature.

UCI administrators, meanwhile, have been touting the job placement successes of the inaugural class of 56 graduates, who finished school in May.

Eight months after graduating, 91 percent of UCI graduates found law-related employment or were enrolled in post-graduate study, UCI reported.

Twenty-six graduates went to work for law firms, one went to clerk for the Alaska Supreme Court, and 16 have been offered prestigious federal court clerkships. Four of the 16 federal clerks were offered a second stint with another judge immediately after the first.

Job placements count for 18 percent of a school's U.S. News rating.

For students still in law school, UCI reported that all third-year students found legal jobs or studied abroad during the summer after their first year, and 99 percent found jobs during their second summer. Also, all second-year students found legal jobs or studied abroad during their first summer.

"We should be very proud that a law school still in its embryonic stages has done great things from the first moments of its inception," said Irvine attorney Wayne R. Gross, president of the Orange County Bar Association.

"Regardless of the ultimate ranking, that school has done everything it possibly can do to make its mark."

Contact the writer: 714-796-7802 or smartindale@ocregister.com or Twitter: @MartindaleScott






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