New Year’s Greetings and Resolutions for the New Year

Dear UC Hastings Community,

This is my first New Year’s message as I start my official tenure in the position of Chancellor & Dean at UC Hastings. I am honored by my selection and look forward to working with all of you this coming year and in the many years ahead. This is not an easy time in legal education and UC Hastings faces some special problems of its own making. But we are also well situated to meet both the systemic challenges of a changing legal profession and to remedy those that are particular to UC Hastings.

UC Hastings students, faculty and alumni are truly exceptional. Our moot court and trial court teams continually win national competitions. Many of our programs – including clinical education, health law, and ADR – are nationally ranked. Faculty members excel in many ways, including, among many other honors this past year, Reuel Schiller’s receiving the American Society for Legal History book award and being named co-editor of a prestigious Cambridge University Press series, Chimene Keitner’s appointment as Counselor on International Law in the Office of the Legal Adviser at the U.S. State Department, and Scott Dodson’s listing as one of the top ten most cited civil procedure scholars in the nation, the youngest to appear on that list. Our alumni also continue to rise to the top echelons of the legal profession, with the most notable being Kamala Harris’ (’89) election to the United States Senate. UC Hastings is a national leader in legal education and the law.

Still, this past year brought many challenges. UC Hastings shares with all legal education the realities of declining applications and a tightening job market. The legal profession is undergoing a fundamental transformation. Much work that was once done by lawyers is now outsourced to other countries or increasingly being done by smart computers. In addition, law firm clients are less and less willing to pay the costs of training junior associates. Law schools that fail to adapt to these new realities will fall by the wayside.

As I explain below, UC Hastings is in as good a position, and indeed a better one than most, to respond to these systemic changes. Unfortunately, we added to the difficulties facing us by not taking care of our most basic business. I speak of the school’s recent California Bar results, which in an earlier message I referred to as “horrific.” This they were. Whereas the challenges of a transforming legal profession are shared by all law schools, our failure to ensure our graduates’ success on the State licensing exam is on us alone.

Make no mistake about it, turning around UC Hastings’ Bar results is Priority-1 as I begin my deanship. This has already begun with our providing financial support to members of the Class of 2016 retaking the Bar in February, including paying for bar course supplements as well as organizing a faculty bar mentor program and study group sessions for them. It continues imminently in January with our providing the Class of 2017 all of the resources and support we can muster, including special weekend workshops during the Spring Term. In addition to committing resources across the entire College focused solely on the nuts and bolts of preparing for the Bar exam, it is clear that our efforts must extend to a fundamental rethinking of our curriculum and our teaching and testing methods. Bar exam preparation is called bar “review” for a reason – students are supposed to be utilizing their time between graduation and taking the Bar to “review” basic doctrine that they solidly learned in law school. No “Bar course,” no matter how comprehensive or well-designed, will be enough to fully prepare our students if our curriculum is not carefully revamped to ensure that our students graduate possessing a solid doctrinal foundation. Our faculty is second to none in its dedication to quality teaching, and our students, rightfully concerned about Bar passage, are committed to the hard work of “learning the law.” With curricular reform, and students and faculty working together, our students will have the knowledge and confidence they need to become licensed attorneys.

These reforms will be based on research that we commissioned this past summer and the best practices we can discover from other law schools that have demonstrated dramatic success in their Bar outcomes.

Ensuring that our graduates are competent to pass the Bar is our most basic business. But it will never be our only business. We cannot, and will not, be satisfied with mere competency. Our objective is academic excellence. UC Hastings is, in fact, poised to move forward in dramatic and exciting ways.

As most of you know, we received a generous grant of about $55 million from the State of California to replace our main academic building at 198 McAllister with a new building located at 333 Golden Gate. We added $3 million from generous contributions from our alumni to construct the necessary connections between the new building and Kane Hall (200 McAllister). These will include an expansive quad and a spectacular sky-bridge. When construction of 333 is completed, we will be collaborating with UCSF to develop additional academic space and considerable student housing on the 198 McAllister site. This will be accomplished through a partnership between UC Hastings/UCSF and a private developer. We then move on to renovate the 100 McAllister Hastings Tower. All told, we will increase available subsidized student housing from 250 units to over 1,000 units. We are building an academic village in the heart of San Francisco.

What does building housing have to do with academic excellence? The answer is, everything. Being able to provide housing for all UC Hastings students will make it easier to recruit. The constant commingling of UC Hastings and UCSF students will inevitably lead to new connections, new perspectives, and undoubtedly new academic programs. Of equal importance, UC Hastings will retain the ownership of the land, which means a stream of revenues going well into the future, helping to pay for a first-rate academic program. This is our destiny. But it will not be realized without a commitment from our entire community.

In order to reach the heights to which we aspire, to return to being a consensus top-25 law school, we must act like a top 25 law school. This means that faculty, students, and staff must rise to the demands of such an exalted status. But it also means that our alumni must rise to those demands as well. When one considers what this means, one only has to look at the schools that make that list year-after-year. The one thing that they all have in common is that they have sizable endowments to support student scholarships. These endowments give them a profound edge.

I begin my official tenure as dean on January 1, 2017. However, I’ve been a member of the UC Hastings community my entire professional life – 30 years. UC Hastings gave me the means to be successful as a scholar and teacher. Giants of the legal profession, such as Mary Kay Kane, Bill Lockhart, Ray Forrester, Ray Sullivan, Roger Park and so many others were mentors, colleagues and friends throughout my career at UC Hastings. For most of us, UC Hastings was crucial to our professional accomplishment. The duties of being dean bring great honor and considerable responsibility, both of which I accept with humility and determination. I will give my all to the school that has given so generously to me.

I now ask you to join me in the effort to return UC Hastings to national prominence.

For many of our alumni, those who attended in the 60s, 70s and 80s in particular, UC Hastings was the bargain of all bargains. Back then, the State covered more that 80% of our operating budgets; today, it covers less than 15%. Whereas tuition was once around $1,000 a year, today it exceeds $44,000. We have moved from being a state-supported institution to a student-supported institution. This is not the way it should be. And the cost-of-living in San Francisco has increased by comparable amounts. Our students need our alumni. Accordingly, I plan to put support for our students at the top of my list of New Year’s Resolutions. Success in this will permit us to continue to enroll extraordinary students and to retain those students who have demonstrated excellence at UC Hastings. It is also the right thing to do.

We live in hazardous times. But a great institution does not merely manage the hazards it faces; it finds ways to turn them to its advantage. These times are our opportunity. Let us not fail to take advantage of them.

I wish you and yours a very Happy New Year.

I look forward to working with you all in the years to come.

Warmest Wishes,
David Faigman
Chancellor & Dean