Raising hopes, cash for law school

Times Staff Writers

One of Erwin Chemerinsky’s jobs as dean of UC Irvine’s new law school will be to create a reputation for legal scholarship for the school. But it’s his other job -- chief fundraiser -- that will either make or break the fledgling school.

Chemerinsky’s challenge -- raising tens of millions of dollars to open the school in 2009, erect buildings and fund an endowment -- comes at a time of unprecedented fundraising in higher education, and for law schools in particular.

Although the controversy over Chemerinsky’s recent hiring, firing and rehiring has raised questions about the leadership of UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake, experts in philanthropy say it probably will have little or no effect on raising money.


“If they hadn’t rehired him, the school would have been finished . . . as far as academics is concerned,” said Brian Leiter, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin who blogs on issues affecting law schools. “If anything, the public at large now sees Erwin Chemerinsky as the greatest constitutional scholar of all time because he got so much good press. It might inspire donors.”

What will matter, experts say, is Chemerinsky’s lack of fundraising experience and the fact that UC Irvine’s law school has no alumni whose wallets it can tap.

Although Harvard Law School’s $400-million fundraising drive sent jaws dropping in philanthropy circles, it is but one in a crowded field of public and private law schools jockeying to raise record-breaking amounts. UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law is among those in the midst of campaigns to raise more than $100 million.

“A decade ago . . . you heard a lot of academics who said, ‘I didn’t get into this line of work to raise money,’ ” said Gene Tempel, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. “Today, there isn’t a dean or top administrator at a university who is hired without the expectation of fundraising on the table.”

Driving the need for private money is the continued decline of state support for public higher education and the cost of luring and keeping star professors who will attract top students.

“There is a national market for legal academics, the way there’s a national market for professional basketball players,” Leiter said. “It’s an expensive proposition to start a law school,” because top talent can command compensation packages in excess of $250,000 a year. “It’s cheaper to build out a philosophy department.”

Last year, higher education received $28 billion in donations nationwide, up from $23.2 billion in 2000, according to the Council for Aid to Education. What some have called an “arms race” in fundraising shows no signs of weakening.

“Support for higher education has gone up regardless of the performance of the economy. It has been an expanding pie,” said University of Pennsylvania Law School Dean Michael Fitts, who moderated a panel last year on the changes in academic fundraising. “I don’t feel competition from other law schools for money.”

If anything, individual gifts are getting larger. Half of all philanthropic gifts of $1 million or more in the United States go to higher education, Tempel said.

UCI already has three such commitments. The foundation of Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren gave $20 million, which got him naming rights. The Joan Irvine Smith & Athalie R. Clarke Foundation and Newport Beach attorney Mark P. Robinson Jr. pledged $1 million each.

“What is different for our law school is that for most universities, fundraising depends a great deal on the alumni base,” Chemerinsky said.

“It is going to be a long time before the Donald Bren School of Law has an alumni base that can significantly support it. We therefore are going to need to build a partnership with the business community, the law firm community and the larger Orange County community. Hopefully they will see us as their law school,” he said.

Documents released by UCI this month show the early fruits of that strategy: gifts of $100,000 each from 11 large law firms.

UCI projected in 2001 that fundraising for its long-coveted law school would start slowly, with less than $1 million raised each year before the school opened in 2009 and $2.3 million raised in 2012, the final projected year. By that measure, UCI would appear to be ahead of the game. But Chemerinsky said those projections were flawed from the start and don’t look any better with the passage of time.

“When I saw them, I said ‘No, no. Legal education is much more expensive.’ They didn’t have an understanding of what law schools cost,” he said. “And the numbers were 6 years old.”

Chemerinsky said UCI since has arrived at much higher targets, although he declined to say what they were. The school is in the final stages of selecting a development director who will oversee a capital campaign.

“I have an assurance from the chancellor and the provost that we will have the funding in place for a top law school,” he said.

Chemerinsky knows, however, that he will be the de facto development director as founding dean -- a role he has never played before.

“I’m not very far along in conversations with donors,” he said. “I’m at Duke this year. I was committed to teach here before accepting the UC Irvine job.

“It’s hard to do that across the country,” Chemerinsky said. “Realistically, I’m not going to be able to be seriously involved in development until we get out there at the end of June. I so look forward to selling my dream to Orange County and Southern California.”

Chemerinsky said he is laying the groundwork for his fundraising effort by recruiting high-profile faculty who will inspire donors.

“We are talking to nine people seriously, all of them big names,” Chemerinsky said. “Our goal is to recruit a faculty equal to any top 10 or 20 law school.”




Major donations

Gifts/pledges received by the UC Irvine Donald Bren School of Law as of Oct. 7.

$1 million-plus gifts/pledges

Bren Foundation: $20,000,000

Joan Irvine Smith & Athalie R. Clarke Foundation: $1,000,000

Mark Robinson: $1,000,000

Law firm pledges

Allen Matkins: $100,000

Anne Andrews: $100,000

Gibson Dunn: $100,000

Irell & Manella: $100,000

Jones Day Foundation: $100,000

Knobbe Martens: $100,000

Latham & Watkins: $100,000

Morrison & Foerster: $100,000

O’Melveny & Myers: $100,000

Payne & Fears: $100,000

Snell & Wilmer: $100,000

Winthrop Couchot: $25,000

Dorsey & Whitney: $17,500

Law Office of Michael Fields: $1,000

Norman H. Green: $100

Source: UC Irvine