UCI Law: The First Half Century

Joseph F.C. DiMento, UC Irvine School of Law


On Monday, August 24, 2009, sixty students took their first class at the University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI Law). While the gestation of any major academic institution is a long process, those students opening their books to a new subject called Statutory Analysis were realizing the culmination of a process of planning, programming, fighting, politicking, strategizing, and coordinating among almost innumerable people that spanned almost half a century.

In this article I recount the history of UCI Law. I do so on the basis of archival materials that have been collected by the University of California, Irvine (UCI) administration, by the main UCI library, and by me. As a person involved in many of the activities and decisions that resulted in UCI Law I also add some firsthand information. Where I do this I strive to distinguish my personal assessment of what happened from my descriptions of what transpired.

Writing history should have a purpose. Mine is threefold for this undertaking. First, I describe an attempt to create a highly innovative professional school so that in the future observers can assess whether its supporters’ goals were met. Second, I aim to describe the challenge of creating new organizations in a highly complex multi-campus, the University of California, which has numerous decision-making points in part because of its system of governance shared between the administration and the faculty, and which has a wide range and large number of constituencies and stakeholders. Third, I hope to provide information about and insights into an undertaking of great interest to many people in and out of the legal community, across the state and the nation, who would not ordinarily follow the academic plan of a single campus; very few of them have had access to the wealth of information about the story of UCI Law that covers almost fifty years.