Thursday, September 18, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Path to law school opens from community colleges

By Nanette Asimov
For California community college students hoping to win court cases someday, draw up people’s wills or even wear a judge’s robes, getting into law school just got easier.

Admission standards aren’t changing. But starting Thursday, six law schools and their undergraduate campuses will partner with 24 community colleges to offer counseling for students interested in a law career and shower the future lawyers with advice, tutoring, mentoring, networking opportunities and access to law school faculty, and eventually waive their law school application fees.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Adrien Abuyen, 20, a student at College of Alameda who wants to become a lawyer advocating for youth. “This is a door opening that would not have opened otherwise.”

Under the plan sponsored by the State Bar of California’s Council on Access & Fairness, community college students who might never have considered a career in the law — or who might be so intimidated by all that’s required to get there — will now have a chance to compete for admission against students from more privileged backgrounds.

“We’ll create a person at the law school who is a champion of this pipeline program,” said Kevin R. Johnson, dean of the UC Davis School of Law. “We’ll bring community college students to the law school and expose them to a legal education. We’ll do our very best to work with students to make sure they get the information they need to come to law school,” from taking the right classes to understanding the importance of the Law School Admission Test.

But like the best legal outcomes, the idea is to benefit both sides.

Community colleges are filled with bright students of color, while law schools and the legal profession need to diversify. At the UCD Law School, for example, about 70 percent of students are white. Asian Americans make up about 20 percent of enrollment, Latinos about 10 percent, and black students far less.

“Our goal would also be to make it easier for socioeconomically disadvantaged students to enroll,” Johnson said. “I see this as a public duty.”

The program is also in line with a shift in the state’s approach to community college itself, said Paul Feist, a spokesman for California Community Colleges.

“We want students to identify their educational goals early in their college career, because the research says that those students are usually more successful,” Feist said, though he added, “It doesn’t mean they can’t change their mind.”

Besides College of Alameda, participating community colleges in the Bay Area are Chabot College in Hayward, Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Merritt College in Oakland, Solano Community College in Fairfield and San Jose City College. For the full list of 24, visit the state community colleges chancellor’s office at www.cccco.edu.

Besides UCD, participating law schools are UC Irvine and four privates: University of San Francisco School of Law, Santa Clara University School of Law, Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.

— Reach Nanette Asimov at nasimov@sfchronicle.com

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