chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
March 16, 2022

Community College Curricula

A critical component of a successful community college pathway program is creating a curriculum that meets the needs of the students and prepares them for their pathway to college and law school. The curriculum should provide:

  • The background and context for the analytical and writing skills they will learn in law school.  
  • Information about the pathway to law school, such as the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) or the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), financial commitments, and considerations, including the selection and application process, for choosing law schools.
  • The development of study techniques and unique skills required to be an effective lawyer. These skills could be developed in non-classroom venues or extracurricular activities. 

It is also critical that the credit hours or units earned through these courses taught in community college are transferable to their undergraduate college.  

Academic Curricula

Suggested Student Learning Outcomes for courses taken during community college: 

Success as a lawyer

There are reports describing the factors or qualities of an effective or good lawyer. One report followed by the California Law Pathways program is the “26 Effectiveness Factors of a Good Lawyer” produced by Professors Marjorie Shultz and Sheldon Zedeck of the University of California at Berkeley. These effectiveness factors were the focus of the course selection for the curriculum. 

  • Sample curricula from community colleges: For California community colleges, a final curriculum with the seven course patterns, cross-referenced with the IGETC (Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum) allows transferability of credit hours to University of California and California State Universities. This curriculum was provided to all participating community colleges. The community colleges, following the “Required 7 Course Pattern” and cross-referencing them with its own course offerings,  created its own curriculum for the Pathway program. Two additional courses were included to provide an experience in service or civic learning and to insure college success. 
  • The Seven Course Pattern included

1.  Introductions to civil, criminal, and constitutional law based on every day experiences.

2. English Composition that focuses on classic writing skills.

3. Emphasis on the approach to Critical Thinking

4. Argumentation and Debate or Persuasion or Equivalent

5. Statistical analysis and approaches to data gathering

6. U.S. History focusing on the evolution of the rule of law

7. Introduction to American Government with focus on the role of the development of the legal system and the role of lawyers and judges

  • Required 2 Course Pattern included

1. Service/Civic Learning

2. The essential elements of successful college performance

Success as a law student

In addition to the knowledge and skills developed through the curriculum, there are study techniques and interpersonal skills often present in successful law students. These traits should be taught and highlighted with examples of the results of successful performance. 

  • Treat law school as a priority and focus on those items that aid in preparing for law school.  Where appropriate, use testimonials from students whose focus began in the early years of college. 
  • Respect the education process by doing their own work and not relying on shortcuts or supplemental sources as a substitute. 
  • Practice and accept mistakes as part of the learning process. 
  • Recognize the needs for resiliency and that things do not always go as planned
  • Appreciate their own development to become lifelong learners.  

Information on the Pathway to Law School

  • Success on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) or the Graduate Records Examination (GRE):     
    • Faculty and counselors should inform students about the LSAT, one of the many requirements in the application process so that students can begin preparing for the test.

      Faculty and counselors should also inform students about the GRE, which some law schools will accept in lieu of the LSAT.  Separately, the GRE is widely accepted for joint JD programs.
    • GRE
    • LSAT
  • Understanding the Financial Commitment:
    • Law school, like any higher education, involves a variety of costs that students should be aware of. The total costs might be eye opening for most students and their family.  Students need to learn to appreciate the potential return on this investment.
    • Prior to applying to law school, students should approximate the costs of attending law school and explore ways to pay for them.  Effective programs must students understand how costs impacts the law school experience. 
  • Choosing which Law Schools to Apply to
    • Applying to law school requires lots of planning, research, and strategic decision making. Students can usually narrow their choices of schools based on their LSAT scores (or GRE scores when applicable) and undergraduate GPA. But these two data points are the result of the academic abilities developed and improved during the college years.  For community college students, the focus must remain on excellence in academic performance as reflected in good grades and essential skill development.
    • Students should start thinking about which factors are important to their decision of which law schools to apply to.  
  • Designate an Advisor or Counselor for Applying to Law School
    • By designating an Advisor or Counselor on campus, students will know where to go for advice on advance planning for their law school applications and financial aid concerns.  For community college students, this selection might include faculty who are also lawyers and who are familiar with the process of selecting and applying to law school.

Non-Academic Curricula

In addition to the required academic curriculum, schools should also consider activities and events that would enhance the student’s success in law school.  

Preparing for a Career in the Legal Profession

  • A visit from a representative of a four-year college or a law school, or both, encouraging students to consider a career in the legal profession; 
  • A visit to a law school, especially a law school class, exposing students to law school pedagogy; 
  • A visit from a lawyer or judge talking about the legal profession as a career;

During these visits, inquiring about programs sponsored the American Bar Association along with state and local bar associations.

Preparing to Transfer to a 4-year college

  • A visit from a representative of a four-year college providing advice on applying to a four-year college, including the application process and financial considerations; 
  • A visit from a representative of a four-year college providing advice on the transition to a four-year college and study skills, including study strategies and time management

Preparing for Admissions to a Law School

  • A visit from a representative of a law school providing advice on applying to law school, including the application process and financial considerations; 
  • A visit from a representative of a law school providing advice on the transition to law school and study skills, including study strategies and time  management

Other Skills to Consider

Judge David S. Keenan, King County Superior Court, Seattle, Washington has the following observations on important skills to become a successful attorney: 

Non-cognitive skills are critical in jobs where a juris doctor degree is required or preferred. Community college students transitioning to law practice may feel added or different pressures than students who began their path to the legal profession at a university, and community colleges can take early steps to help their students prepare for those pressures. While community colleges often provide for a rich learning community with students of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, students with disabilities, low-income students, and older learners, the important voices from these same marginalized communities are frequently underrepresented in the legal profession. That underrepresentation makes the pathway from community college to law school that much more important, and yet also presents challenges for students who may enter the stressful practice of law living with the effects of racism, bias, and poverty.  

Given that community college students may experience impostor syndrome and may face considerably more pressures inside and outside of law practice than their colleagues, instruction in these areas while in community college will be important to a successful professional transition. For example, resilience and stress management are important tools for attorneys and others in the legal profession, regardless of education background. Clients often come to legal professionals with contentious, time-sensitive issues which might be deeply personal with a company’s or a family’s future at stake. In situations like these, the work itself is hard enough, let alone the transferred trauma that may result from triaging, analyzing, and attempting to vindicate the rights of another. The ability to remain resolute, show grit, and manage stress in that environment is essential to a long, healthy career in the law.  

In addition, legal professionals must know how to manage their time. Law practice is somewhat unique in that the prevalent business model still relies on billing, not just by the hour, but even tenths of an hour. Many law firms have billable-hour minimums, and such requirements incentivize attorneys to take on more work than they have capacity for at any one time. Add to this the fact that transactional law and litigation are episodic, sometimes involving sudden and inflexible client or court deadlines, and effective time management becomes very important.

Students who started their path to the legal profession in community college may have developed resilience, stress coping skills, and the ability to effectively manage their time by necessity, given that many might attend college while working and facing challenges university students do not. Equipping community college students with these non-cognitive skills now will help them succeed in law school and thrive as legal professionals.  

Non-cognitive factors

Educators and psychologists tend to focus on what material is taught and how it is taught. But few examine how students react to how they are learning and what they feel about themselves. As educators, we must pay attention to our students and be aware of the non-cognitive factors that affect their learning.

Stress management

Being a professional, like a lawyer, who is entrusted with people’s wellbeing is stressful. Any number of factors may contribute to stress, including personality, physical and emotional health, personal relationships, major life changes, and social and job issues. It’s not always possible to avoid stress, but it is possible to change your response to stress. Lawyers need to learn to develop behaviors to deal with the stress in positive ways. Students, who also experience stress, can begin practicing good behaviors while in school.

Time management

Lawyers often have multiple cases, multiple tasks, and multiple clients that they are working with over a period of time. Lawyers need to develop their skills to be able to prioritize assignments, focus on tasks, and manage their limited time. Students can begin to improve their skills while in school to become more efficient with their time and more effective at completing assignments.

Mentor relationships