Pathway to Law School Summit Introduces Students to Law Careers

by Ruthe Catolico Ashley

BIO: Ruthe Catolico Ashley is Executive Director Emerita of California LAW (Leadership-Access-Workforce) and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the American Bar Association. She can be contacted at

On February 20, 2016, UC Davis Law School hosted the inaugural Pathway to Law School Summit. The collaborative effort included 16 high school law academies created under the California Partnership Academy model with the California Department of Education, 29 California community colleges and six undergraduate and six law schools—all committed to fulfill the Mission: 

 “To establish a pipeline of diverse students from high schools, community colleges, four-year institutions and law schools into law or law-related careers so that the legal profession reflects the diverse population of the State of California.”

ABA President Paulette Brown shares her journey

“This summit brought together for the first time, our entire educational pipeline from 10th grade to law school. It was exciting for teams of teachers at the high school and community college level to have a chance to share concerns and solutions with each other. Between panels, the buzz was positive and palpable,” stated Ruthe Ashley, Executive Director Emerita of California LAW (Leadership-Access-Workforce), the organization that was created to support and build this pathway and and host of this summit.

Inspiring speakers, including Chief Justice of California Tani Cantil-Sakauye and newly-minted Executive Director of the State Bar of California Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, both spoke of their strong support of the educational pipeline and the absolute need for a diverse legal profession to increase trust and confidence in the justice system. Both believed the pipeline introducing students to careers in the law, especially those in disadvantaged communities, is an absolute necessity to meet the profession’s goals for diversity. The  lunchtime keynote was the barrier-breaking American Bar Association President, Paulette Brown. Brown is the first woman of color to hold the ABA’s highest office, and her Diversity 360 Commission is redefining diversity for the legal profession.

Panels addressed the growth, success, and challenges of the high school law academies as well as the structural and implementation challenges facing the community college law pathways. Undergraduate deans of admissions shared information on transfers from our partner community colleges into undergraduate institutions. Six law schools were represented on the final panel on Tips for Success along the Pathway to Law School.  

Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, Executive Director of the State Bar of California, recounts the history of the educational pipeline into the law

The first piece of the pipeline was launched in 2010 with the creation of the first six high school law academies throughout California. The State Bar asked to work with the California Department of Education to build these academies using the California Partnership Academy model. That model targeted “at risk” students in public high schools thereby creating highly diverse classrooms. This was the first “boots on the ground” program for the State Bar of California under the leadership of then Executive Director Judy Johnson. Former Board of Trustees member Ruthe Ashley, working with Patricia Lee, Special Assistant for the State Bar’s Diversity work, led the formation and implementation of the law academies.  

On Law Day (May 1, 2014), 24 community college presidents or their designees, six partner undergraduate chancellors and deans of their respective law schools all signed a Memorandum of Understanding committing to creating the Pathway to Law School from community college to law school. The project was brought to life by Thuy Thi Nguyen, then chair of the College to Law School committee of the State Bar’s Council on Access and Fairness. Now, in its second year of implementation, this Pathway summit was the first event to bring the entire pipeline from high school to law school into one room.  

“It was an exciting day where old friendships were cemented and new ones were started. I learned so much and now am ready to inspire my entire team in the work that we are doing,” stated Emily Quinlan, California LAW’s Board Secretary and Faculty Champion at Saddleback College.  All are looking forward to the 2017 Summit which will be held at UC Irvine School of Law. 

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