Careers in law may seem unappealing to students in diverse California when the state bar is about as diverse as a loaf of Wonder bread.
Of its 208,684 members, 79.3 percent are white, 60.6 percent are male and 48 percent are 55 or older, according to the California Bar Journal.
SWC students may help change that as the college joins California Law Inc.’s Pathway to Law School program. Students of all majors may apply.
Jamie Ledezma, assistant professor of administration of justice, said California’s practicing lawyers do not come close to representing California’s demographics, much less those of Southwestern College’s student body, which is only 28.3 percent white.
Pathway to Law School was created by California Law Inc., a public benefit corporation whose purpose is to improve California’s diversity in careers in law by establishing a pipeline of support to students as soon as high school.
A first-generation college student herself, Ledezma said that students need early contact with legal professionals.
“It wasn’t until my first day of law school that I literally came face-to-face and shook another lawyer’s hand,” she said. “It blows me away that I went through that many years of higher education and hadn’t really gotten to work with, or meet, or network or talk to a practicing attorney.”
Pathway to Law School scholars will receive support from the counseling office, faculty mentorship, networking and internship opportunities, as well as membership in a pre-law club, she said.
Administration of Justice Professor David Caspi said the program will have a rich network of resources.
“There’s direction and mentoring, so it’s not like Jamie’s experience where students are just doing it all by themselves,” he said. “Now they will have other people. We will give them the guidance.”
“Working hand-in-hand with the Pathway to Law School program will open different possibilities to our students and, together, we want to visit law schools in Southern California and we want to arrange events with local courthouses,” she said. “These will be experiences that I think will further enrich our students’ exposure and interest in the law.”
Ledezma said the program’s recruitment strategy is to cast a very broad net.
“To participate in the program, you have to be a SWC student, period. That’s it,” Ledezma said. “It is open to any major, to any student who is enrolled here. We want to encourage students who maybe are majoring in math, or science, or photography or fine arts, that if they have any interest in law school, to not set barriers for themselves and to explore and tap into that interest and hopefully we can connect them with real resources.”
Ledezma said the program does not aim to make every student a lawyer, but to help set their educational sights a bit higher.
“They don’t have to want to go to law school to be part of our pathway to law school program,” she said. “What we are doing is providing a support system to elevate our students as they transfer.”
“The program will not focus just on criminal law,” Ledezma said. “It will include civil law, immigration law, family law, all sorts of different interests so that, should students want to become lawyers, they can go in a multitude of different directions.”
Pathway to Law School scholars will need to meet with a counselor and take a Constitutional Law class which, Ledezma said, is being revived for fall 2017. Additional curriculum includes transferrable general education classes in public speaking, writing, logic and standards of professionalism.
“The courses are supposed to give you foundational skills and knowledge that you will need if you go to law school, but those are useful in many other careers,” Caspi said. “Nobody has to change their major or anything. The law applies to every aspect of society.”