Educating Tomorrow's Attorneys for Under-served Regions

The University of La Verne is committed to innovative efforts that improve college accessibility for all students. Located in Southern California, 35 miles east of Los Angeles, the University of La Verne's College of Law recently received American Bar Association (ABA) accreditation, further enhancing students' educational opportunities in the field of law.

The timing of this national accreditation could not be more critical.

According to the State Bar of California, there are more than 185,000 practicing attorneys in the State. With a total population of approximately 40 million residents, that translates roughly to one attorney for every 215 residents; however, a regional perspective underscores a staggering lack of legal representation for Inland Southern California residents. In the counties of Riverside and San Bernardino (referred to as The Inland Empire), there are fewer than 5,500 practicing attorneys in an area with a population of approximately 4 million. This equates to one attorney for every 725 residents.

Other challenges exist in the region as well. The Inland Empire consistently maintains an unemployment rate above the state and national average, and a poverty rate that puts it among the nation's highest for large metropolitan areas. The level of educational attainment in the area is among the lowest in the state. Among recent statistics, approximately 35 percent of the ninth-graders in the Inland Empire do not graduate from high school; only 37 percent of college age residents enroll in a college program of some sort; only 24 percent of the area's adult residents have received a college degree.

Despite these challenges, the Inland Southern California region, served by University of La Verne, is an expanding cluster of vibrant and multicultural communities, adding to the strength and vision of the area. It remains California's fastest growing region, with a greater than 50% Latino population, a large percentage of the state's nearly 750,000 Arab Americans, as well as smaller populations of African Americans, and Asians Americans. Non-Hispanic whites now comprise less than 35 percent of the population.

We are proud that the majority of the University of La Verne's College of Law students come from these communities. Nearly 60% of the University's law school students are ethnic minorities. They come to the College of Law from schools and neighborhoods that are significantly under-resourced. When they graduate and pass the bar examination, most will go on to practice in the communities from which they came; communities greatly in need of their legal assistance.

This year's national political dialogue is permeated by inflammatory rhetoric about illegal immigration, denial of paths to citizenship, walls at our borders, and deportation for hundreds of thousands of people. Too many of today's politicians and pundits propose invasive security procedures in ethnic neighborhoods and the potential harassment of families. As academic leaders, we must take an active role to increase the number of skilled practitioners in family law, immigration law, criminal law, and similar disciplines in our communities. This need has never been more urgent. These practitioners must have deep ties to their communities, be culturally competent, and have the skills and knowledge to address legal issues that can serve to further these communities economically, socially and politically while understanding meaningful cultural nuances.

The University of La Verne's College of Law graduates, and others like them across the nation, will be called upon to serve their communities at this most critical time. It is imperative that these students receive an education that is tailored to their unique circumstances - one that supports success throughout law school and into the professional world. It is incumbent upon us to provide innovative methods to assist them with accessing law school, succeeding in law school, passing the bar examination, and pursuing meaningful career opportunities where they can have the greatest impact.

I challenge other minority-serving institutions to consider the courageous steps taken by the faculty, staff, administration, and students at the University La Verne College of Law.

Our unique "True Tuition" model, implemented in 2014, provides affordability and equity to our law students. We eliminated applications fees and lowered tuition from $39,000 to $25,500 per year for all full-time students, rather than providing scholarships for a select group with the highest entering LSAT scores (a measure found to have limited correlation to success in law school). Where other institutions may only assess law school applications by LSAT scores, the University of La Verne's College of Law looks at the "whole" student, assessing entering LSAT scores, college GPA, life experience, and a demonstrated pattern of determination in achieving goals.

The True Tuition Model makes the University of La Verne the most affordable ABA-accredited law school in California. The La Verne Model of Legal Education with its practical and relevant curriculum tracks ensure students have experience in mock trials, negotiation of contracts, mediation, and other important hands-on practice before graduation. Bar readiness courses are included in the curriculum and begin on the first day of classes for a first-year student and continue through students' bar exam day after graduation from law school. This bar preparation is included in the tuition, while students at most other law schools must obtain bar test preparation at an additional cost.

The results of these efforts are impressive in both the areas of enrollment and bar pass rate. The fall 2015 first-year College of Law enrollment increased by 53% while law schools nationally were experiencing decreased enrollments. The College of Law's three-year average bar pass rate of 62.4% is fewer than 2 points away from the state average for California's other ABA accredited law schools, many of which are part of handsomely endowed Tier I research institutions.

In addition to coming from under-served and under-represented communities, most of the University of La Verne's students are the first in their families to attend college. For them, choosing a law school that is competitive, affordable, and innovative will be key to their retention and success in their profession.

Institutions like the University of La Verne must design and create programs that embody access, equity and inclusion for students. We must level the playing field for those students who bring sharp minds, a passion for and dedication to their communities, and the perseverance to solve challenging societal ills, while also having experienced economic and educational system disadvantages. We must give these students every opportunity to achieve.

Their professional success will help lift communities throughout California and the country and make a positive difference in the lives of millions.