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The University of California regents, a dominant force in California education, plans to open an additional law school in 2009. The University of California, Irvine is set to cast off in only two years, naming the renowned Erwin Chemerinsky dean of the Donald Bren School of Law. Chemerinsky, a household name to any law student who showed up to constitutional law, is a shoo-in for success. Yet, with roughly 9,000 soon-to-be attorneys awaiting their July California bar results, competition within the job market is noticeably fierce. Despite a historically low bar-passing rate, the California legal market is not prepared to assimilate the vast number of entry-level attorneys produced each year. According to the State Bar of California, a total of 14,774 people took the July 2006 and February 2007 bar exams; 6,811 passed, for an annual pass rate of 46%. There are currently 211,973 registered attorneys within the state of California. Since the U.S. Census Bureau estimated California’s 2006 population to be 36,457,549, that equates to about one attorney for every 172 people within the state. With almost 15,000 people sitting for the California bar each year, approximately 6,900 newly inaugurated attorneys will be eligible to enter the California legal market. The question arises: How many new attorneys can California undertake? The significant disparity between entry-level attorneys and available legal jobs is largely attributed to the overabundance of law schools located within the state. California is home to more law schools then any other state, with 20 accredited legal institutions, 11 of which are top 100 schools. Compare that with other states, many of which have only one law school. (Alaska does not have a law school, while Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming each has only one.) Texas, for example, a state of somewhat comparable size to California, is home to nine accredited law schools and 79,409 registered attorneys; it sustained a 74% bar passage rate for the July 2006 and February 2007 exams. Like California, Texas is one of the few states to administer a three-day bar exam. Even so, with only 4,000 candidates sitting for the Texas bar exam annually, the passage rate remains sizable without saturating the state’s legal market. Texas attorneys have a variety of legal markets from which to choose, including Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. With a 2006 estimated population of 23,507,783, and therefore roughly one attorney for every 296 residents, opportunity for legal employment is favorable. Compared to California the math is simple: California’s additional law schools generate an overabundance of attorneys competing within California’s already inundated legal market. The consequences of California’s surplus of law schools and excess attorneys are monumental. Yet California does not appear to recognize the problem it faces with overeducated, underemployed legal graduates. Adding an additional law school to the mix is a recipe for disaster. The presence of U.C. Irvine will compound the already existing predicament for recent law school graduates seeking full-time legal employment. Currently, California alumni with high class standing, law review experience, mock trial practice and extensive legal backgrounds are encountering a hostile entry into the legal market. The addition of U.C. Irvine’s law school will not aid the effort. Many recent law school graduates have opted to leave the state for employment opportunities that simply don’t exist in California, such as jobs in international law and relations, entry-level in-house counsel positions or openings at small to midsize firms that have the capacity to hire and train new associates. Others have conceded the loss and moved on to other nonlegal jobs (e.g., financial adviser, stockbroker, investment banker, real estate agent, etc). While all are excellent professions, any could be done without a J.D., making the typical $100,000 of debt a law school graduate must repay superfluous to his or her education. Low-paying law clerk positions On the other hand, there are those recent graduates who remain committed to California and the practice of law. Left with no resort, they are relegated to unappealing law clerk positions that pay $15 per hour and possess little prospect of future gainful employment. Even some of California’s more prestigious law schools have several graduates continuing to search for legal work. Employers of small to midsize firms have informed me that a Craigslist posting for law clerk positions may elicit more than 100 inquiries during the course of a week. The phenomenon of these responses suggests a dim outlook for emerging attorneys. Employers’ receptivity to recent law school graduates is already dwindling and unlikely to improve in the coming years. It is not surprising, considering the abundance of experienced attorneys in California who require little attention and no training. With large numbers of existing attorneys already in the state of California, it is little wonder that recent graduates are finding legal work scarce. In light of the aforementioned statistics, what will be the long-term effect of adding an additional law school to an already overstaffed legal market? Perhaps the Donald Bren School of Law is not in the best interests of the state of California. Stephanie Dowds is a May 2007 graduate of the University of San Diego School of Law.

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