The Birth of the Challenge


The UCLA Law Firm Challenge was conceived in the fall of 2002 when Emeritus Dean Jonathan Varat, Charles Cannon, 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 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 and, 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 work to increase the percentage of the School’s alumni who made an annual gift to the School from approximately 16%, 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 40%’s.  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 Latham, Gibson, Morgan Lewis, and O’Melveny challenged their alumni colleagues to contribute to the School, with 31% 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 1,400 alumni now participating at Challenge firms, an astonishing 72% 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 fund-raising efforts.  The larger mission of the Challenge 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 the 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 and 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 La Shawn Hardemion at (310) 206-2344 or, 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.