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From the President

Lawyers making a difference in the diversity pipeline

By David J. Pasternak
President, the State Bar of California

David PasternakWe rarely hear about the good things lawyers are voluntarily doing for the legal profession. A project that all California lawyers and judges should be proud of includes the 1,200 lawyers and judges actively involved in the diversity pipeline project now called the California LAW (Leadership-Access-Workforce) Pathway.

It began in 2010, when the State Bar partnered with the California Department of Education to build its first six law academies in public high schools across California. High school academies were created by the California Legislature in 1986 as California Partnership Academies, requiring schools to partner with specific industries to provide classroom and career technical education. The goal was for students to enter their selected academy in 10th grade and to be college and career ready upon graduation. The legislation requires that 50 percent of the students in any classroom be considered “at risk” which, in reality, produces highly diverse classrooms.

This was a perfect model for the State Bar to invest time and energy in to meet the goal of producing a profession that reflects the population that we serve. Today, our lawyers and judges support 16 high schools. They serve on advisory councils, volunteer as mentors and classroom speakers, create internships, provide numerous opportunities for field trips and perform other law-related activities. Many of our law academy teachers are former or retired lawyers. Every single day, these lawyers and judges support the students along the education pipeline and career pathway – and change students' lives.

The second step of this pipeline was launched on Law Day 2014, when the presidents and deans of 24 California community colleges and six undergraduate and law school institutions signed a Memorandum of Understanding to incorporate a law pathway from community college to law school – a 2+2+3 pipeline into careers in the legal profession. Community colleges are one of the most diverse educational institutions of higher learning, and studies have found that almost 50 percent of California Partnership Academy graduating students attended community college. The six undergraduate and law schools are: University of California Davis, University of California Irvine, Santa Clara University, University of San Francisco, University of Southern California and Loyola Marymount. The leadership of these higher education institutions truly embodies their commitment to the profession.

Pulling everything together is the new nonprofit organization, California LAW. This is the support system that will ensure coordination, collaboration, connection and communication throughout the entire pipeline (ninth grade to law school). Visit its website at

Why is the State Bar so proud of this pipeline? Pipeline dreamers and leaders have come from the State Bar. In 2006, then-Executive Director Judy Johnson created the special assistant for diversity role filled by Patricia Lee and asked her to staff State Bar President James O. Heiting’s Diversity Pipeline Task Force. President Heiting appointed Ruthe Ashley, a member of the board, to chair the project. The State Bar’s Council on Access & Fairness (COAF) was born. Next, the law academies were created. Thuy Thi Nguyen, who chaired the COAF College and Law School Committee, dreamed and brought the pipeline program into reality, which led to the California LAW Pathway.

“We were the first profession to approach the California Department of Education with an offer of partnership,” Ashley said.

This is a great project, one that provides opportunities for members of the bar and judiciary to educate students about the justice system and careers in the legal profession. It is also one that ultimately impacts students’ lives and the future of our legal profession in California. Yes, we can be very proud. And perhaps more lawyers and judges will become active participants by signing up on the CaliforniaLAW website.