Irvine Co. Chairman Gives $20 Million to New Law School

Irvine Co. Chairman Gives $20 Million to New Law School

By Don J. DeBenedictis
Los Angeles Daily Journal
August 14, 2007

The first University of California law school in 40 years will be born with deep pockets.
Irvine Co. chairman Donald Bren is giving $20 million to UCI’s nascent law school, which will be named in his honor, the school announced Monday.

Nearly all the money will go toward hiring a nationally recognized dean and endowing 11 distinguished professorships, according to UCI Chancellor Michael V. Drake. The money means the new Donald Bren School of Law will be able to open its doors to students in 2009 with a dozen nationally prominent scholars on the faculty, who should allow the school to attract even more.

“We’re doing our best to find ‘anchor tenants,’” Drake said.

The professors’ salaries will be paid for by the university directly, leaving Bren’s faculty endowment to fund research assistance and other benefits, the chancellor said.

That means UCI will be able to “bring some high-level laterals” in from other schools, according to John Eastman, the dean of Chapman University School of Law. The school will “make a good splash with that … and get their core faculty.”

Drake said the university had been in “conversation” with Bren for two years about his support for the law school, although the intended gift was kept anonymous until details were finalized.

But the certainty of substantial support was important in getting the school off the ground, according to the chancellor and to two prominent Orange County lawyers active behind the scenes, including Mark P. Robinson Jr. of Laguna Niguel. The University of California regents approved creation of the school in November despite objections from a state higher-education panel that argued the state has too many lawyers.

Another lawyer active in boosting the law school, Gary Singer of O’Melveny & Myers in Newport Beach, said local lawyers “are just so excited” by Bren’s gift and what it means for UCI. “We think it’s going to be a wonderful professional school.”

Eastman noted that the endowment frees the University of California campus from having to ask the legislature for money as soon or as often as it might have.

Bren was traveling Monday and could not be reached, according to an Irvine Co. spokesman.

Bren is considered one of the leading philanthropists in the country, and he has focused much of his giving on education in the city that bears his company name. UCI already is home to the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, the Bren Events Center and the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, which was renamed after Bren’s late stepmother, the Academy Award-winning actress.

Counting the 11 professorships and one deanship for the new law school, Bren has endowed 37 chairs at UCI and others at Caltech, Chapman University and the University of California, Santa Barbara.
He gave $20 million last year to the Irvine Unified School District, according to his Web site, and he has given $200 million to education overall.

The $20 million gift from the Donald Bren Foundation for the UCI law school appears to be the second-largest ever to a California law school and well within the top 10 donations to law schools nationally, according to communications and development officials at various schools.

The largest to a law school from an individual in a single year is Charles Munger’s $43.5 million gift in 2004 to Stanford to build a law school dormitory.

Munger is a Los Angeles investor who is chairman of the Daily Journal Corp., which owns the Los Angeles and San Francisco Daily Journals. Munger, who founded the Munger Tolles & Olson law firm, is a vice president of Warren Buffet’s investment company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Nevada lawyer and television-station owner James E. Rogers in 1998 pledged $115 million over 20 years to his law alma mater, the University of Arizona. He has added to his gift from time to time.

Rogers also gave $10 million to USC’s law school, where he got his master’s of laws degree, and $28.5 million to the University of Nevada law school.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave $33.3 million in 2005 to the University of Washington School of Law to establish an 80-year scholarship program. The scholarship honors Bill Gates’ father, a Washington law alumnus and founder of Preston, Gates & Ellis, which now is Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis.

Bren, coincidentally, is an alumnus of the University of Washington, where he received a degree in business and economics.

UCI leaders are scheduled to meet this evening with law school boosters to discuss the Bren gift and the search for a new dean.

Drake said the list of dean candidates is down to about a half-dozen. He predicted an announcement in the next couple of months.