University of California, Los Angeles School of Law

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UCLA Law (UCLAW)—An Alum's Perspectives, 6 Years Later

Aug 20, 2000 (Updated Jul 30, 2001)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Good reputation, good job opportunities, location, public school tuition, few Paper Chase moments

Cons:Narrow class offerings, weak alumni network, challenging joint programs

The Bottom Line: A solid choice for many law students.


I got my JD/MBA from UCLA from 1990-1994. Obviously the school has changed in several key ways since I’ve graduated—there’s a new dean, a new law library, and a new admissions process that has effectively eliminated affirmative action. However, I’ve also spent the last 5 years teaching as an adjunct professor at University of San Francisco and Santa Clara University, and I’ve formed some strong opinions after comparing the programs.

UCLAW is a young school. Founded in the early 1950s, it does not have the same institutional legacies as the Ivy League schools or even the schools founded around the turn of the century. Indeed, incredibly, I took several classes from faculty members who were part of the original faculty when the school opened.

Its comparatively short operating history makes UCLAW’s rise in prominence noteworthy. UCLAW claims to be the only law school ranked in the top 10 which was founded since 1900. I think the claim to be in the top 10 is somewhat wishful, but UCLAW usually shows up in the top 20, often somewhere in the 15-20 range. Discounting the self-inflated assessment of rankings for a moment, it is remarkable for UCLAW to be so well-known and respected less than 50 years after founding when it must compete against institutions with long-standing reputations and much larger endowments.

Irrespective of the precise number where the school is ranked, UCLAW’s reputation is strong enough to open up any legal profession door that a student wants opened up. For example, unlike students at most of the lower ranked schools, UCLAW students can obtain the most prestigious judicial clerkships if they want. Usually one or two UCLAW students are Supreme Court clerks each year, an opportunity in practice afforded only to 25 or so of the top schools.

More importantly for most students, the job placement opportunities for UCLAW students are very strong. Only a handful of the most snooty of white-shoe New York firms will not consider UCLAW students; all other law firms will consider UCLAW candidates, and usually UCLAW candidates compete favorably at even the most selective firms. As a result, usually only those deep into the bottom half of the class will have to really work hard at finding a job post-graduation (particularly in this hot labor market). This stands in stark comparison to Santa Clara’s students, where 90% or more of the students work really hard to find their job. (To be clear, most Santa Clara students get jobs they want--they just have to work harder to do so.)

As an attorney routinely was involved in the recruiting process, ignoring for a moment my alumni bias, I personally strongly favored UCLAW students over those of many other schools. I found UCLAW students to be well-trained, motivated and talented. Interestingly, this compared favorably to students from more highly-touted schools, who I found often suffered from one of the following two challenges: either they were prima donnas who expected to be shielded from the more mundane aspects of the practice, or they were academically talented but had difficulty applying their skills in a practical problem-solving way.

Three other key favorable aspects of UCLAW:
* the price. Despite steep tuition increases in the 1990s, UCLAW remains a relative bargain. Many of my Santa Clara students complain bitterly about the enormous debt they take on, which creates enormous stress for them as they evaluate post-graduation job opportunities. While many UCLAW students take on serious debt, the huge difference in tuition means less debt and therefore more financial freedom.
* the location. Los Angeles has many flaws, but the Westside is a great place to live and study. I still fondly remember those better-than-heaven Spring days in LuValle or the Sculpture Garden.
* the academic atmosphere. UCLAW is not the pressure-cooker law school that creates the horror stories you read about in One-L or see in the Paper Chase. Few professors use the Socratic method or cold-call, and those who do usually encounter such apathy that the methods are ineffective. The grading curve has improved since I was there—it used to be 20% A, 40% B, 40% C; now it’s 20/60/20—but even in my time there was little grade grubbing or academic backstabbing. (Don’t get me wrong—there was plenty of grade grousing, but there always will be).

Looking back and comparing to other programs, there are a few aspects of UCLAW that didn’t thrill me as much.

First, UCLAW’s class offerings were in some ways narrower than offered at schools like Santa Clara that rely heavily on adjunct professors. For example, Santa Clara probably has 2 dozen classes related to technology law, while when I was at UCLAW, the offerings were substantially more limited.

A second weakness of UCLAW is the alumni network. I’m not sure why this is the case, but UCLAW alums tend not to do much to support the school after graduation. This contrasts with Santa Clara alums, who are very willing to help current students and retain a deep sense of connection to the school long after graduation.

A third weakness of UCLAW was unique to me as a joint program student. UCLAW is on the semester system, while virtually all of UCLA’s other programs—including the business school—are on the quarter system. As a result, I was confronted with a number of scheduling and logistical challenges. Further, at the time I was there, the joint program was thinly supported, and program rules and requirements were not clearly communicated. So my JD/MBA peers and I often had to band together to resolve administrative issues.

A final point. I used to be a harsh critic of UCLAW’s career center and placement services as being worthless. I don’t know if they’ve gotten better, but I’ve learned that career placement services at law schools are generally reviled. Indeed, UCLAW’s on-campus interview program is significantly better than Santa Clara’s, and a motivated and self-initiating student should find ample career resources at UCLAW.

In the end, UCLAW proved to be a good choice for me. I was able to jointly enroll in a top business school program, I was able to get a job I wanted after graduation, I enjoyed many aspects of being a graduate student in Los Angeles at a large public institution, and I was not financially wiped out on graduation. Whether it’s a better choice for you than a school like Santa Clara will depend on a multitude of factors; but few students will end up disappointed having chosen UCLAW for their legal education.


Recommend this product? Yes

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