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California and the West

UC Riverside Urges Creation of Law School

Education: Benefactor's $5 million helps fuel effort. If approved, it would be UC's second in the Southland and take some pressure off demand at UCLA.

May 20, 1999|TOM GORMAN and KENNETH R. WEISS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

RIVERSIDE — With a benefactor's $5-million gift to launch the effort, UC Riverside officials Wednesday proposed creation of a law school, the fifth in the University of California system.

The school, which needs approval from the UC Riverside faculty and the UC Board of Regents, would be constructed in downtown Riverside, host to a growing legal community and an emerging state and federal courts complex.

As proposed, the first students would begin classes in fall 2001, with a facility fully built about four years later. At that point, the school would accommodate about 450 students--compared to about 490 law students at UC Davis, 850 at UC Berkeley and 950 at UCLA, the only other UC campus in Southern California that grooms aspiring attorneys.

Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, with 1,200 students, is affiliated with the UC system although it is governed independently.

The Riverside school would boost by about 13% the number of seats available to law students throughout the UC system, which now accepts about 5% of its law school applicants.

The dean of UCLA's law school said a sister school would relieve the intense competition for his seats.

"Our applications are so high and we turn away an awful lot of good students," Jonathan D. Varat said.

Furthermore, he said, the state has a geographic imbalance in the location of its public law schools. "It's a little odd that we have three public law schools in Northern California and only one in Southern California--namely UCLA--where two-thirds of the people live."

The organizers behind the Riverside effort, which began in serious conversations about nine years ago, hope that the school will earn the accreditation of the American Bar Assn., making it the only law school--public or private--in the Inland Empire with such stature.

Start-up costs for the project were estimated at $24 million by UC Riverside Chancellor Raymond L. Orbach.

Those costs reflect construction of a building and increasing the downtown county law library's collection from 56,000 volumes to 220,000 and would be financed through private donations. About 40% of the amount already has been pledged, he said.

The linchpin donation was announced Wednesday: a $5-million gift from Henry W. Coil Jr., president of Tilden-Coil Constructors Inc. He said he was making the gift in memory of his late father, Henry W. Coil Sr., who practiced law in the Riverside area for more than 50 years, and his late brother, Horace W. Coil, another locally distinguished lawyer.

The gift is the largest private donation ever given to UC Riverside. The school would be named the Coil School of the Law.

Appropriately, Wednesday's announcement was made in the historic Riverside County Courthouse, an architecturally stunning building constructed in 1904 and recently reopened after being refurbished by Coil's company to meet earthquake standards.

The development of a new law school would prove beneficial both for Riverside and students statewide who aspire to become attorneys through the University of California.

"We are a significant place," Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge, himself a UC Riverside political science professor, told a gathering of judges, attorneys and other civic leaders Wednesday. "We deserve to have a top quality law school."

In a broader sense, there was hope that Riverside's school would generate interest from a wide range of students and add to the ethnic diversity of California's bench and bar.

UC Riverside is roundly applauded for being among the most racially diverse campuses in the UC system, and Orbach said there were hopes that that makeup would extend into the law school.

He said there is discussion of protecting some of the law school's seats for students who first attain undergraduate degrees at his campus.

James D. Ward, a state appellate judge from Riverside who served as a key promoter of the plans for a UC law school here, said he hoped that its creation "will result in the diversification" of the attorney population.

Plans for the law school must still be formally accepted by the UC Riverside Academic Senate and the UC Board of Regents.

One regent, William T. Bagley, voiced a common concern: the explosive growth in lawyers. Since he passed the California Bar Exam in 1952, Bagley calculates that the number of lawyers has increased 1,000%, compared to the 300% growth in the state's population.

"There are just too many lawyers in the state," Bagley said. "Some are driving cabs. Others file frivolous lawsuits. We certainly don't need any more."

On the other hand, he said, the fault lies more with the growth of unaccredited law schools than the top-flight schools accredited by the American Bar Assn.

"If it were to become an ABA-accredited law school and replace some fly by nights, that would make sense," he said.

Criticism that California is over-populated with attorneys was anticipated by Riverside officials, who said they hope to produce lawyers who will practice in the Inland Empire.

Officials noted that while Los Angeles County has one lawyer for every 233 people, Riverside and San Bernardino counties have one lawyer for every 898 people.

UC Riverside officials said the new school curriculum might specialize in international trade, cyberspace, environmental law, biomedical law and agriculture.

If UC Riverside eventually wins ABA accreditation, it will join the ranks of 10 other law schools in Southern California. Besides UCLA, they include Loyola, Pepperdine, Southwestern, USC, Western State University in Los Angeles County, Whittier Law School in Orange County, and California Western, Thomas Jefferson and the University of San Diego in San Diego County.

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