Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The State of California is a majority-minority state with at least 60 percent of its population made up of persons from racial-ethnic minority groups.  The California Bar is only 20 percent minority lawyers, and this number has not been increasing at a pace that is rapid enough to reflect the general population. 


Studies show that diversity in the legal and judicial system is a priority for public trust and confidence and the appearance of fairness in the courts.  Furthermore, lawyers are a majority of the elected officials and other key leaders locally, statewide and nationally.  It is imperative that our leaders represent the rich diversity of our communities to ensure that the diverse interests are taken into consideration and represented in public policy and other critical decisions affecting our community.  Also important is the increasing global economy that dictates attorneys representing key entities come from diverse backgrounds to respond to demands by global clients to ensure maximum cultural interaction and sensitivity. 


Diversity Pipeline Task Force

In 2006, California State Bar President Jim Heiting created the Diversity Pipeline Task Force to review "best practices" of diversity pipeline programs from pre-school to the legal profession already in existence.   Chaired by board member Ruthe Ashley, it brought over 100 lawyers and judges together to look at 4 different categories:  law firms, the judicial system, government lawyers, and education programs.  This Task Force led to the first Judicial Summit in 2007 that revealed the lack of focus on diversifying the California bench.  It also revealed the failure of the profession to diversify and the growing achievement gap in California's students.  This information prompted the then Executive Director Judy Johnson, to create a Special Assistant for Diversity position filled by Patricia Lee.  This was the bar's answer to a growing problem.  


Council on Access and Fairness

The Task Force published its findings within one year and in 2007 the Council on Access and Fairness was launched to institutionalize the work of the Task Force.  It became the "think tank" for the State Bar and had a strategic plan to tackle barriers to diversifying the profession.  Now in its 8th year of existence, it has become a national leader in launching projects that are "boots on the ground" programs for diversity in the legal profession.


California Law Academies

In 2010, the State Bar created a unique partnership with the California Department of Education to build its first 6 high school law academies under the California Partnership Academy model.  Created by the California Legislature in 1986, it required that students in these classrooms be at least 50% at risk and be in high schools of 350+ students.  These requirements led to classrooms that reflected the population of California in its diversity.  High school students receive a law class starting in the 10th grade - every day for 3 years.  The dream of becoming a lawyer became a reality for the first time for many of these students, many who were considered disadvantaged.  The academies continue to grow and now number 14 with more in the planning.  The law academies are supported by a volunteer group of lawyers and judges under the California Law Academy Support Council (CLAS).  More than 1200 legal professionals give of their time, energy and funds to work with these students.


Community College Pathway to Law School Initiative

Established in 2014 when 24 California Community Colleges, 6 undergraduate institutions and 6 law schools all signed a Memorandum of Understanding as the inaugural class of the Community College Pathway to Law School initiative.  Thuy Thi Nguyen, then the chair of the Pipeline Committee of the Council on Access and Fairness, envisioned this project and worked tirelessly to bring it into reality.

The Community College Pathway to Law School initiative is an innovative, unprecedented program in the United States, and to the legal profession.  The initiative has received national attention through various news outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Fresno Bee, American Bar Association Journal, and the Community College Daily. It provides a clear pathway from community college to law school with the purpose of diversity in the legal profession. Support for the students, including mentoring and pre-law counseling, will be included in order to provide students with the best possible chance for success.  Professional development activities would be provided to faculty members. 


The Community College Pathway to Law School initiative requires the completion of courses that are based on a defined set of “success factors” that help make effective lawyers. The intention of this initiative is to align criteria from the “success factors” with California Community College courses already approved in corresponding Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) areas in order to prepare students for law school and the legal profession prior to transfer. 


California LAW and the State Bar’s Council on Access & Fairness, with these agreements, hopes to create a clear pathway for students from diverse backgrounds to attend law schools. Our community college system has the most diverse student population of the three public systems in California, providing opportunity for everyone who aspires to obtain a college education, including students from the least affluent communities in California, first generation students, students of color, students with disabilities, veterans, and those who have work and family responsibilities. Thousands of talented and promising students leak out of the education pipeline from community college to law school every year because of a lack of support, mentoring, financial resources, and information about what is needed to gain admission and succeed in law school.