Who are the lucky students who decided to be a part of the inaugural classat the University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI Law)? Why did thesehighly qualified individuals decide to take a chance at a new school? In a word,many decided to come to UCI Law because they were drawn to the opportunityof being in the first class at a law school that seeks to reshape the curriculum oflegal education.
In this article, I examine these students’ decision in the context of the twinchallenges of legal education. On the one hand, a large body of research onprofessional socialization suggests that UCI Law students’ values, commitments,and career trajectories will echo their counterparts at similarly situated, highlyselective law schools: while many students begin their legal education with plans tobe public interest lawyers, by the end of the first year their sights are set on careers in corporate law, with the all-important caveat that they plan to keep their options “flexible.” On the other hand, an equally large body of research suggests that law schools do not operate in a vacuum, but are highly susceptible to institutional pressures to conform to the “taken-for-granted” practices of legal education; thus, while UCI Law begins with a faculty committed to an innovative approach to legal education, the pressures of accreditation, rankings, and professionalism itself may undermine their genuine aspirations to develop an alternative model. Of course, it is far too early to draw any conclusions about where the students at UCI Law will practice or whether the school itself will succeed in meeting its goal. Thus, my taskin this article is much more modest.