Chemerinsky to Leave UC Irvine Deanship, Will Found UC Erwin School of Law

By Michael Dorf

The sunny skies of Orange County, CA have thus far failed to lift the dark mood of the faculty and students at UC Irvine School of Law, who awoke yesterday to the disconcerting news that founding dean and noted constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky was leaving, effective immediately, to start yet another new California public law school, to be called "UC Erwin."  In a press release, Chemerinsky announced:
I am very proud of what we built together at UC Irvine since we admitted our first class way back in the fall of 2009. But that was nearly five years ago, which, in this rapidly changing environment, is an eternity.  What was innovative then is now stodgy.  At UC Erwin, I plan to not just reinvent legal education, but to reinvent the reinvention of legal education--every day.
The new law school will be located in the unincorporated community of Irwin, California, in Merced County just 20 miles south of Modesto.  Approval of the change of the spelling of the community from "Irwin" to "Erwin" is expected before UC Erwin School of Law opens its doors in August. Said Merced County Supervisor Dorothea Rodriguez about the name change: "This was too good an opportunity for us to turn down."

Still, some skeptics have raised questions about whether California needs another law school right now. Dean Kevin Johnson of the UC Davis School of Law told DoL that "notwithstanding Erwin's gifts, it's just not clear to me that we should be building new law schools, rather than redefining the mission of existing law schools." Fair enough: UC Erwin can be expected to be in direct competition with UC Davis--although you wouldn't guess it from what Chemerinsky told Above the Law. He reportedly said:
I see UC Erwin as revolutionizing legal education, indeed, as revolutionizing knowledge itself. My competition is not so much UC Davis or Berkeley or even Stanford Law School.  UC Erwin will be a completely different sort of institution.  When future generations look back on the history of UC Erwin, I hope they will compare its world-historical impact with Plato's Academy, not something as transitory as Yale Law School.
What's so revolutionary about Chemerinsky's new law school?  Reached for comment in between arguing a Supreme Court case and appearing on MSNBC, Dean Chemerinsky told DoL that UC Erwin would be unique in three ways.  Here is his list:
Number one: Faculty.  At Irvine we had problems retaining the faculty we recruited from other law schools.  Some of them went back to the schools we recruited them from because they never fully bought into the vision. At [UC] Erwin, all of our faculty will continue to have their primary attachment to wherever they are now. We'll just list them on our website.  If they never leave, they can never go back. 
Number two: Pedagogy. We have been using the Langdellian Socratic method for a century and a half. Today's students need to learn by doing. They'll be out in the field from day one.  No classrooms. No books. No classes. Just real life lessons.
Number three: Students. I get it. There aren't enough jobs for all of the students law schools enroll as it is. UC Erwin will not contribute to that problem. We won't have any students who don't already have law jobs when they arrive. In fact, for the first three years, I'll be the only student.
When I read Chemerinsky's revolutionary plan to Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow, she coughed nervously. When pressed, Minow said that Chemerinsky's plan would vault UC Erwin to the top of the USNews rankings.  "It's devilishly clever," Minow added.  "100% placement rate; perfect LSATs; top grades. The only thing that could stop him is reputation but Erwin has such a great brand, so he's got that covered too."

Less than an hour after I got off the phone with Minow, I received a mass email from the Harvard Law School alumni office boasting that "HLS is the original UC Erwin." It noted that "the University is located in Cambridge [MA], and the law school's nerve center is in Griswold hall, named for long-serving HLS Dean Erwin Griswold." (Bold letters in original.)

Harvard does not appear to be the only law school jumping on this particular bandwagon. In a move that he described as having been "in the works for some time," late yesterday Duke Law School Dean David Levi announced that his institution had changed its official name to Chemerinsky Law School, claiming that that the move was in honor of Kimberly Chemerinsky, a 2007 graduate of the Duke Law School (and Erwin Chemerinsky's daughter-in-law). Levi said that "Kim was a really terrific student here, who is already making a name for herself in practice." He added that the change was in no way an effort to capitalize on Erwin Chemerinsky's name recognition. "Erwin Chemerinsky?" Levi asked.  "Never heard of him."