First, let me say that I don't think it would be a crazy decision to go to UCI with a full ride. I can see arguments for any of your three options. Your reasoning, however, isn't entirely sound. Read on....
the_rural_juror wrote:Guys, I'm still really leaning toward UC Irvine. A lot of you have voted for Berkeley but I've yet to hear a compelling argument of why I should choose Berkeley or even UCLA over Irvine. Yes, Berkeley has national placement going for it (which isn't a factor for me anyway), and yes, it has better biglaw placement, but I'm still kind of waiting to hear that x-factor of what makes it $150K better than UCI for a guy like me (or maybe $100K if I really play my cards right).
The argument for going to B is that it gives you the best chance for a job that will make going to law school a worthwhile investment. As others on TLS have explained countless times, salary distribution for starting attorneys is bimodal. It's not like folks graduating at median from T14 schools are getting $160K salaries, while folks graduating at median from T30 schools are getting $130K salaries. It's more like the difference between $160K and $50k. Berkeley significantly reduces the risk that you end up in the latter category. Is that reduction of risk worth sticker at Berkeley? Perhaps not. But I wouldn't assume that it's an easy question.
And, although you don't want to leave California, Berkeley gives you greater geographic flexibility within the state. What if your wife really wants to live in SF in three years? Good luck getting a job up there out of UCI. (I'm sure it's possible, but it would be hard.) At Berkeley, meanwhile, you can easily work in NorCal or SoCal. Again, that flexibility may not be worth sticker price to you, but it is worth taking into account.
I guess part of my thinking is that I can be in the top portion of my class at Irvine and still have a lot (if not most) of the benefits I would get with a Berkeley JD without having to pay $3,000 a month in student loans while supporting a family. Granted, one can't always plan to be in the top of their class, but I think I have a very solid chance of being there and I certainly have the drive.
Sorry if this sounds blunt, but this is a horrible reason to pick UCI over UCLA or UCB. Almost everyone goes to law school with the "drive" to be at the top of their class. Almost everyone thinks they're going to work extra hard and succeed. At the end of the first semester, half of those people are below median. This is about as likely to happen to you at UCI as it is at UCLA or Berkeley.
The UCI faculty apparently has some insanely good connections (33% of their 2012 class in clerkships? Come on!)) and I feel like even though their class size has doubled, the top people in their new, larger classes will still be able to milk those connections and get some fantastic jobs in SoCal.
In my opinion, folks are a little rough on UCI on TLS. I think it's going to be a solid regional school. However, you're going too far in the other direction. The class of 2012 is not representative of what UCI will deliver moving forward. As I'm sure you know, the school offered full rides to the *entire* class. The full rides, along with the small class size, allowed UCI to select a strong group of students. As the class size grows and the scholly money dips, they're not going to be able to sustain that level of quality. Indeed, their GPA/LSAT levels are already declining.
They also promised (and delivered) special treatment to that first class of students, with Dean Chemerinsky (and a couple of other connected profs) going out of his way to get clerkships for a lot of the students in that class. Chemerinsky isn't going to sustain that level of hustle and commitment forever. And even if he did, he couldn't keep up the placement rates in light of UCI's increasing class sizes and declining student quality.
At the end of the day, UCI is going to be like a SoCal version of UC Davis: a very good law school that (1) places students at the very top of its class into clerkships, (2) sees about 10% - 20% of its students getting big law or close to it, and (3) struggles a bit in the shadow of Berkeley and Stanford (not to mention the students from all the other top schools that want to live and work in Cali). Because of UCI's exceptionally strong faculty (they have great academic quality), I expect they'll end up ranked above UCD when they get ranked next year. (UCI should have a great peer assessment score.) But that's probably not going to translate to job placement in SoCal biglaw.
Like I said at the beginning, I don't think that UCI at with a full ride is a bad choice at all. But if you're going to go there, don't attend thinking that a world of elite opportunities will be at your fingertips.