Share this on Twitter Share this on Facebook Share this on Linked In Share this by Email
From the President

Pipeline to the profession

By Craig Holden
President, the State Bar of California

Craig HoldenOne of my priorities this year is to focus on increasing diversity along the so-called “pipeline” to the legal profession. Judicial Council surveys of court users reveal that diversity is a priority for public trust and confidence, and the appearance of fairness in the judicial system.

From my perspective, the State Bar’s core mission of public protection necessarily involves making sure that the legal needs of California’s increasingly diverse population are met. Pipeline diversity is a critical component. Pipeline programs focus on increasing the number of diverse students from early education through college that matriculate to law school. This year, I have promoted several pipeline programs that help and encourage students from diverse backgrounds to seek careers in the legal profession and pass the bar exam. 

The first initiative involves a partnership between the California Department of Education and the State Bar of California, resulting in the creation of the first law academies among the nearly 500 California Partnership Academies statewide. The Law Academies are located in public high schools in Sacramento, Richmond, Antioch, Vallejo, Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego. They meet the requirements found in the Education Code , most notably being located in disadvantaged communities where at least half the student population is at risk of dropping out of school. Each law academy is overseen by a local advisory board made up of judges, attorneys, elected officials, local business and community representatives, academics and law academy school administrators and teachers.

More than a thousand volunteers support the academies in a variety of ways including serving as mentors, speaking in the classrooms and providing internships and job shadowing experiences. The program is so successful that it was recently honored at the American Bar Association Midyear Meeting with the prestigious Alexander Pipeline Award.

The 2+2+3 Community College Pathway to Law School Initiative is another example of a diversity pipeline program with the goal of providing community college students with a framework and support system for those aspiring to attend law school. Partners in the initiative include 24 community colleges, six law schools (University of California Davis, University of California Irvine, University of San Francisco, University of Santa Clara, University of Southern California and Loyola) and their six undergraduate counterparts.

The initiative includes a law-related curriculum, community service and other exercises to help participating students move along the pipeline and be considered for admission to law school. The program is open to all community college students seeking legal careers. Given that more than 80 percent of community college students statewide come from diverse backgrounds, we are confident that the students going through this pipeline will help us move toward our goal of increasing diversity in the legal profession.

I have also undertaken an effort to study and potentially implement in California a program designed by Northwestern University School of Law focused on increasing the bar pass rate among minority law students. The bar exam preparation program is called the Minority Legal Education Resources (MLER), and it has been operating since 1975. Unlike commercial bar exams courses that teach substantive material, this program helps one learn "how" to take the bar exam by teaching study and exam-taking techniques. I’d like to thank the Council on Access and Fairness and the California Bar Foundation for working together to explore the possibility of replicating a version of MLER in California.

Another project I’d like to mention is the recent release of the video “Walk the Walk,” produced by Abby Ginzberg in collaboration with the Council on Access and Fairness through donations from the California Bar Foundation, various law firms and individuals. The 27-minute video includes a series of vignettes that portray real life examples of bias encountered by attorneys of color, women and LGBT attorneys in various practice settings. The video is designed for use in CLE programs. To order the DVD packet, contact Brandi Holmes at 415-538-2587 or for a flyer and ordering form.

Finally, many often ask: how can I help? You can in at least three ways. First, I encourage lawyers to support diversity through the process of hiring, retaining and/or promoting attorneys from diverse backgrounds within the workplace. The NFL’s “Rooney Rule”  is a great model to follow. The Rooney Rule called for diversity amongst the candidates being interviewed for NFL head coach and senior operations positions. The rule does not say who should be hired, just that teams should ensure there is diversity in the interview slate before a hire is made. The idea has been such a success that it has been adopted in corporate America.

Second, I encourage lawyers to donate to the Elimination of Bias fund when you complete and return your fee statement each year. These voluntary contributions are critical to funding some of the programs described above. I have also asked the State Bar’s Board of Trustees to impose restrictions on these funds so that they can only be used for their intended purpose, so you know that your contributions are valued and not taken for granted. Third, mentor someone. I’ll be discussing the importance of mentorship in an upcoming column, as well as my mentoring initiatives.

Together, we can increase the pipeline of diverse students entering the profession.