History and Mission

The Birth of the Challenge

The UCLA Law Firm Challenge was conceived in the fall of 2002, when Emeritus Dean Jonathan Varat, Charles Cannon, Former Director of Development, and James D.C. Barrall '75, Latham & Watkins LLP, met to discuss the relationship of UCLA School of Law to the wider legal community and ways in which that relationship could be deepened, broadened and strengthened. At those meetings, they identified the many ways in which an expanded and more systematic relationship would benefit not only the School, but also law firms and their members. These ideas were then discussed with the leaders of the School’s alumni at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, O’Melveny & Myers LLP and Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, who agreed that it was time to build a systematic and mutually beneficial relationship between the School and the law firm community and to be founding members of the UCLA Law Firm Challenge.

The First Challenge: Improving the Annual Giving Participation Rate

The first mission identified by the Challenge representatives from Gibson, Latham, Morgan Lewis, and O’Melveny was to increase the percentage of the School’s alumni who made an annual gift from approximately 16 percent, the lowest percentage of any top-20 law school, so that the School would be competitive with its peer schools, typically with rates in the mid-30's to -40s. Increasing the School’s contribution participation rate would provide the School with much-needed discretionary operating money to fund important initiatives and needs in the absence of a substantial endowment income. Just as importantly, increasing the participation rate would signal alumni support for the School to the various accreditation and ranking agencies that view alumni giving rates as a proxy for “customer satisfaction.”

In the fall of 2002, the Challenge representatives at Gibson, Latham, Morgan Lewis, and O’Melveny challenged their alumni colleagues to contribute to the School, with 31 percent of them doing so that first year.The following year, alumni leaders at 27 additional law firms agreed to serve as Challenge representatives and to challenge their alumni to join in giving to the School. The academic years '04-'05, '05-'06 and '06-'07 saw further dramatic expansion of the Challenge, to 70 firms. Of the approximately 1,450 alumni now participating at Challenge firms, an astonishing 80 percent are making financial contributions to UCLA Law. The Challenge’s efforts to improve the rate of alumni annual giving have already borne fruit, as have our efforts to add firms and alumni to the Challenge every year in the future.

The Broader and Long-Term Mission: Building a Permanent Network

However, the mission of the Challenge has always been more than to support the School by assisting in its fundraising efforts, the larger mission is to build a permanent network between the School and its alumni at the nation’s law firms, for their mutual benefit. The law firms clearly benefit by hiring some of the nation’s best and brightest students who are educated at the School and who are well-equipped to become practicing lawyers, and by providing the School with input on programs and curricula that will train even better lawyers. The School can clearly benefit by leveraging off the tremendous resources and contacts of its alumni at the Challenge firms. The School, its administration, faculty and student body have demonstrated that they are committed to reaching out to the School’s alumni for help, support and feedback, and for their part, the School’s alumni at the Challenge firms are supporting the School in myriad ways, including by teaching as adjunct professors, mentoring first-year students, training second-year students in interviewing skills, serving as moot court judges, participating in the School’s colloquia and continuing legal education programs, and serving on the School’s various alumni and advisory boards. Moreover, the representatives of the Challenge firms stand ready, willing and able to offer any help that the School might need as it advances in its mission of becoming one of the nation’s preeminent law schools.

The Challenge’s Social Mission: Personally Reconnecting

At its heart, the Challenge is about the law firms and their representatives, and is animated by their desire to reconnect with the School and one another, to work together as a team in support of an important mission, to rekindle fond memories of our days at the School, and to once again participate with its administration, faculty and students in its open and congenial culture. To that end, the Challenge firm representatives have social functions and meet regularly with the Dean and others at the School to learn of developments at the School, where it is heading, and how we and our firms can be of help.

Join the Challenge

If you and your law firm are not yet participating in the Challenge, we invite you to join us. You, your firm and the School will all be the better for it. Please contact Brooke Spencer at spencer@law.ucla.edu to enroll your firm or request additional information. The representatives of the Challenge firms look forward to meeting and working with you in this important and exciting endeavor.

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