Access to Justice Series: Broadening access to justice in California through education

Access to Justice Series: Broadening access to justice in California through education

By Sergio Parra, Board Member, Santa Cruz County Bar Association

The State of California has a public interest in increasing access to justice by attracting diverse students from all walks of life into law-related careers in this state. The State has taken steps to shape the legal profession so that it more closely reflects the diverse population of California in a way that makes it more responsive and accessible to the communities that it serves.

California Leadership-Access-Workforce (Cal LAW) was established in 2015 by the State Bar to provide a pipeline for diverse students from high schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions into law schools or law-related careers. Currently, Cal LAW’s partners consist of 21 high school law academies, 28 community colleges throughout California, and 11 undergraduate universities and their law schools. These law academies provide a 3-year curriculum starting in 10th grade with a focus on law supported by the local legal community through mentoring, internships, field trips, and other law-related activities. Although no high schools in the immediate area have adopted this program, it appears that both Hartnell and Gavilan community colleges now participate in Cal LAW.

The Santa Cruz County Mock Trial Competition is a local program that hopes to encourage the future leaders of tomorrow to seek a career in law. The Constitutional Rights Foundation manages the California Mock Trial Competition for all 36 participating counties and locally, works in coordination with the Santa Cruz County Office of Education to hold annual mock trial competitions at local area schools. Approximately 8,000 students throughout the state of California participate in Mock Trial every year.

Both Cal LAW and the Santa Cruz County Mock Trial programs invite members of the bar to get involved either as a volunteer, mentor and/or sponsor of various programs throughout the year. The more that members of the bar can invest themselves by service and outreach to diverse communities in the state, the more it can ensure the pursuit of justice in the generations that follow.