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A community college-to-law school pathway

Thuy Thi Nguyen, general counsel for the Peralta Community College District, holds the memorandum of understanding signed by participating community college and law school officials.

​Community college students interested in moving on to law school have a smoother pathway to get there, thanks to a new initiative launched by the California Community Colleges and the State Bar of California.

The 2+2+3 Community Colleges Pathway to Law School initiative creates a partnership among 24 of the state’s community colleges and six law schools along with their respective undergraduate institutions.

“This project will put talented and promising community college students on a trajectory to enter some of the finest law schools in the nation and receive the support they need to succeed and make the legal profession more diverse and the justice system more reflective of our state,” said Brice Harris, chancellor of state’s community college system.

Harris signed a memorandum of understanding with the participating institutions on May 1 during the Law Day Celebration at Chabot College.

A diverse pipeline 

Students at the participating institutions will have their credits in prescribed courses accepted when they transfer to a university in the initiative. They will also receive:

  • early exposure to the law school experience
  • individual advisement and mentoring from law school advisors in community college and after they transfer
  • financial aid counseling
  • assistance preparing for the LSAT exam
  • waived application fees for admission to law school

Community college students would be required to complete courses based on a defined set of “success factors” that help make effective lawyers, according to program organizers. Those courses would include a basic law course, sometimes known as Street Law or Law and Democracy.

The Pathway to Law School project is sponsored by the State Bar of California’s Council on Access and Fairness, which want to develop a more diverse pipeline for the legal profession. While racial or ethnic minorities comprise 60 percent of the California population, only 20 percent of the state’s lawyers are minorities.

“It became very obvious to me as we were talking about how to build the pipeline that community colleges have to be a part of it because we are so diverse,” said council member Thuy Thi Nguyen, general counsel for the Peralta Community College District. Two of the district's institutions — College of Alameda and Merritt College — are participating in the law school initiative.

Studies show that students who graduate from a four-year college who spent the first two years in a community college do just as well in law school as students who spent all four years in that university, Nguyen said. 

“We have an incredibly long list of notable judges and lawyers in California who went to community colleges," she said, including California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakayue, who attended Sacramento City College, one of the 24 selected for the initiative.  

Taking it statewide

Tthe 10-year pilot program is being funded by the participating institutions, which have committed to provide the services — such as counseling, outreach and application fees — spelled out in a memorandum of understanding. The community college system applied for a $6 million grant from the California Career Pathways Trust, which is administered by the state’s Education Department, to scale it statewide. 

As part of the program, students at the 24 community colleges will participate in a debate competition, with judges and lawyers coaching them.

“If we get the grant, we can have regional and additional statewide debate competitions,” Nguyen said. “This is a significant undertaking by all segments of California higher education. I want to see it grow."

The law schools participating in the initiative are:

The participating community colleges, in addition to those already cited, include: