Do we really need another law school in Orange County?

UCI Chancellor Michael Drake is continuing his effort to add a law school to his campus – but the real question is – do we need another law school in Orange County? According to an article in today’s OC Register, “Orange County already has three American Bar Association-approved law schools, at Chapman University, Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa and Western State University College of Law in Fullerton.”

An analyst from the California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC), Stacy Wilson, found that “”They are demonstrating a significant need and shortage of supply, but we have some serious questions about how they updated (the statistics).”

The real need in the OC is for a four year occupational safety program. We currently lack even a two year program! As a member of the OC Chapter of the ASSE (American Society of Safety Engineers) I have already discussed this with John Hanna, a trustee at the Rancho Santiago Community College District. They have a terrific program for firefighters – and could easily add a safety curriculum.

According to the State of California Employment Department, here is the outlook for a number of safety positions in California – these figures represent only a sliver of the entire occupational safety market:

Occupational Health and Safety Specialists:

  • Current positions (as of 2004): 3,700
  • Projected employment, through 2014: 4,200
  • Average annual openings: 130
  • Hourly mean salary: $30.19

Occupational Health and Safety Technicians:

  • Hourly mean salary: $25.41
  • Other data not available

Health and SafetyEngineerss, excluding mining safety:

  • Current positions (as of 2004): 3,200
  • Projected employment, through 2014: 3,800
  • Average annual openings: 140
  • Hourly mean salary: $35.50

Emergency Management Specialists

  • Hourly mean salary: $33.75
  • Other data not available

My own personal experience is that a safety professional with a four year degree, some experience, and other certifications, can easily earn over $100,000 a year – in fact I know of several such openings at this time. Virtually every industry needs safety professionals – LAUSD is currently looking to hire at least four to six just to supervise their new school construction projects, at salaries between $90K and $100K.

Also, the projections noted above are far too low. Go to any job search engine and search for positions that include “safety.” There are always dozens of jobs open – and trained, experienced applicants are rare.

Insurance companies also hire safety professionals, and pay them very well. Other sectors with high demand for safety professionals include: manufacturing, construction, agriculture, and the government. That’s right – every municipal agency needs safety engineers – and many are getting older and will need to be replaced in a few years. The need is ready to go critical, in my opinion, as baby boomers retire.

To be fair, the current projections for lawyers, in the Orange County area, are 145 per year, through 2014. The hourly mean salary is $65.72, however I can tell you from personal experience, having worked at two law firms as a marketing director, that young attorneys can expect to make perhaps $30,000 to $40,000 per year for the first six years after they finish law school. It takes awhile for them to learn enough to be able to make more money.

The truth is, safety professionals can make similar salaries and can also expect to earn a lot more after they have five years of experience. There is in fact a huge demand for bilingual safety professionals, so youngsters growing up in Santa Ana could easily craft a great career by starting at Santa Ana College, and transferring to UCI, or CSUF, to finish a four year program. But of course right now there are no such programs in our county.

The only programs I am aware of are a four year environmental and safety program at Cal State Northridge, and a two year program at Rio Hondo Community College, in Whittier. That’s it. There are also one year safety certificate programs at UCI’s extension campus, and at Cal State Rancho Dominguez.

My personal sentiment is that UCI’s Chancellor wants a law school primarily because it would be a huge recipient of donations, from parents of students, and later from alumni. I think it is more important, and vital to our area, to promote a four year safety program. What do our reader’s think? Do we really need more lawyers – or do we need to focus on worker and public safety? In this post-911 era, the answer should be readily apparent.

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"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.