UCLA School of Law started its 2020-21 year on Aug. 24 with a new class of students that is among the most accomplished and diverse in the school’s history.
Incoming students represent a wide variety of professional backgrounds, nationalities and ages. They include 311 students pursuing a J.D. degree, 45 lawyers who are earning a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree, and 41 professionals who make up UCLA Law’s inaugural class of students who are working toward a Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.) degree. In addition, 40 accomplished transfer students have joined the UCLA Law community after excelling during their 1L years at other law schools, and two visiting students are completing their 3L years at UCLA Law.
UCLA Law hosted a virtual convocation ceremony on Aug. 21, where the outstanding new students were welcomed with speeches by Dean Jennifer L. Mnookin, Student Bar Association President Adrian Rios, and distinguished alumnus Halim Dhanidina ’97, who serves as a justice on the California Court of Appeal and administered the Oath of Professionalism.
Dhanidina offered the incoming class advice on navigating law school, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. “It is crucial for our mental health, above all, that we be patient with our friends, neighbors, school, classmates, and most of all, we should remember to be patient with ourselves,” he said. “Don’t ever forget why you are here in the first place. Something has drawn you to the pursuit of a legal education. Maybe it’s the desire for financial security. Maybe it’s access. Maybe it’s social justice. Or maybe it’s a combination. Either way, you should stay tethered to that sense of purpose. It will give you the sense of direction and motivation that is essential to a successful law school experience and legal career.”
The new J.D. students were selected from more than 6,000 applicants, and their class is the most diverse in decades. Forty-eight percent identify as students of color, with 15% identifying as Latinx, 7% as African American and 2% as Native American. Five members of the class are graduates of the UCLA Law Fellows Program. UCLA Law also stands out among top-20 law schools with at least 15% of the class identifying as first-generation students who are the first in their families to have earned a college degree.
The Class of 2023’s median LSAT score of 169 is the highest in UCLA Law history, while the 25th percentile score was the same as last year at 164, and the 75th percentile score went up one point to another school record of 170. The median grade-point average of incoming J.D. students remained a school-best 3.79, while the 25th percentile was 3.54 and the 75th percentile was 3.90. New J.D. students range in age from 18 to 47, and their median age is 24. Women comprise 55% of the class, 59% are California residents and students come from 30 states, the District of Columbia and seven foreign countries. Twelve percent hold advanced degrees, and 11% majored in STEM fields.
The class includes many undergraduate leaders, widely published authors, Olympic athletes, a Fulbright Scholar, a Guinness world record holder, the executive director of a regional collaborative supporting climate change and sustainability policy, and a pioneer of the world’s first online middle school Model United Nations Program. Students have excelled in their careers before law school, including at the White House, U.S. Supreme Court and other parts of government in the United States and abroad; in major companies including American Express, Louis Vuitton, the New York Times and Twitter; at a wide array of preeminent law firms; as cast and crew members on productions including Fuller House, Scandal and The Young and the Restless; and as a boutique hotel owner, a horse wrangler, a coffee-sourcing nonprofit founder, and veterans of the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Army Reserve.
Incoming class members are also committed to public service. They have worked or volunteered for organizations including the ACLU, Border Rights Project, Alliance for Children’s Rights, Animal Equality, Equal Justice Initiative, Habitat for Humanity, NAACP, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Public Counsel, Ronald McDonald House, Southern Poverty Law Center, Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, Tribal Justice Project, UNESCO and many others. One student is a founder of a university advocacy organization dedicated to supporting the currently and formerly incarcerated, and another is a co-founder of a legal defense fund for college women who are sexual assault survivors.
Lawyers joining as LL.M. students include 30 who previously earned a J.D. at a U.S. law school and 15 international students. Together, they represent eight countries on three continents. Sixty-one percent are women, and class members range in age from 20 to 50.
They hold degrees from renowned international institutions, including the University of Cambridge, Seoul National University, University of Chile, University of New South Wales and University of Tokyo, as well as from U.S. law schools including those at Duke University, Georgetown University, George Washington University, UC Davis and UC Irvine. Some are already accomplished legal professionals, having worked as associates at law firms in the U.S., Japan, Chile, South Korea and China. Other notable positions include a patent attorney for Samsung, an officer for the Japanese Ministry of Health, two former U.S. Army Judge Advocates General and a Fulbright scholar from Lebanon.
Thirty-seven percent are specializing in Media, Entertainment, and Technology Law and Policy; 30% in Business Law; 9% in Human Rights; 7% in International and Comparative Law; 7% in Law and Sexuality; 4% in Environmental Law; and one student each in Law and Philosophy, public interest and an individualized program of study. An additional eight continuing students are leading scholars who are pursuing legal doctorates (S.J.D.) in their respective specializations.
UCLA Law’s first-ever M.L.S. students are a similarly accomplished group of largely mid-career professionals who are obtaining a legal degree that offers a robust education in American law but does not lead to a career in the practice of law. The class includes full-time students and 33 people who make up the first cohort of part-time students in UCLA Law history.
Fifty-six percent of the students identify as female, and 49% are members of historically underrepresented groups. They range in age from 19 to 72, their average age is 39, and 56% are 35 or older. Nearly 40% of the students hold advanced degrees in business administration, social work, public policy and more, and they received undergraduate degrees from Cornell, Harvard, Northwestern, Stanford, UC Berkeley and UCLA, among other universities.
A large majority are accomplished executives and professionals: 37% are vice presidents or chief executives, and 44% are directors or managers. The average professional work experience of the class is 17 years, and 61% have 10 or more years of professional experience. Some notable positions include the Chief Executive Officer at Sinousia Corporation; the founder of Pont Capital; vice presidents from companies including Inspire Energy, FX Networks & Production and DC Entertainment; journalists from the Los Angeles Times and other local publications; and several staff members and administrators of UCLA and UCLA Health.
Twenty-two percent are specializing in Employment and Human Resources Law, 15% in Entertainment and Media Law, 12% each in Business Law and in Public Interest Law, 7% in Government and National Security Law, and 5% each in Health Law and Policy and Law and Technology. One student will be specializing in Environmental Law, and eight students have chosen to self-design their individual curriculum.