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March 16, 2022

Establishing Community College Pre-Law Pathway Programs

For those wanting to start a community college pre-law pathway program, the following are some actions to determine whether there is sufficient interest and support from students, faculty, administrators and the community at large.

A. Identify and Connect with Interested Groups

  • Speak with groups and other community colleges that have already established a program.  A great place to start is the California Law Pathways program.
  • Identify and consult with professors and advisors on your campus that have advised students to pursue legal careers; taught courses that demonstrate the importance and impact of the rule of law; or became pre-law or career advisors.
  • Consult with departments and staff that focus on paralegal work, political science, government, education, accounting and business management to learn more about their courses and whether they may fit in a program curriculum. 
  • Determine approximately cost to implement the program.  Additional information can be found below in the Funding Section.

B. Conduct a Feasibility Study

  • Identify individuals who would be supportive of a pre-law program at your campus and community.  In addition to discussing the program with the groups identified above, identify and survey: 
    • Students, both existing and incoming
    • Community college alumni, especially those who are lawyers 
    • Community college faculty and administrators, especially those who are lawyers 
    • Local law schools, especially where students would likely enroll 
    • Local bar association, law firms & courts 
    • As described in another section, lawyers are needed by the profession, especially those from underrepresented communities. You may find that your own community of legal professionals would be very supportive of your proposed program.  
    • Another group that may be supportive of a pre-law program are the attorneys who serve underrepresented groups, specifically clients who cannot afford an attorney and may be below the federal poverty levels, residents of rural communities, seniors, and veterans. Your community’s bar association and legal aid agencies might be able to provide information on these groups. 
    • Begin gathering additional data – [hyperlink to Gathering Data] 

C. Establish an Advisory Group

  • Establishing a pre-law program takes an enormous amount of work and energy to start the program and keep it going. Having a good cross-section of the college community and the surrounding legal community is a great way to maintain the program. 
  •  Potential Advisory Group members include:    
    •  Students 
    • Alumni of the community college who are lawyers 
    • Community college faculty who are lawyers 
    • Faculty who teach courses that are likely to motivate students to consider careers in the legal profession 
    • Career or pre-law advisors 
    • Law school admissions staff or faculty 
    • Bar association members 
    • Attorneys from diverse backgrounds & practice areas 
    • General counsels of corporations 
    • Judges 
    • Parents of interested students 

D. Critical Players for Prelaw Pipeline Programs

  • Faculty Champions

    In analyzing successful initiatives, we have learned that the success of a program often depends on the effectiveness of an individual, namely a “champion”, who has the vision, leadership skills, and energy to spearhead the project. 

    There are many lists of the qualities of a good or effective leader, which are qualities that would be advantageous for any task. In addition, the “champion” must have these traits for this specific project: 
    • A vision for what this program can be at a particular college. Each college has its own characteristics, especially students and faculty. In addition, each college is surrounded by a legal community with its own personalities. Furthermore, each college is located in a region that has its own community values. All of these factors, and likely more, need to be considered when envisioning a successful program. 
    • Anticipation of all the critical stages that need to be reached before the program can become a reality. Each college has its own policies and procedures for new programs, its own governing units, and its own accreditation agencies. Each of these steps must be considered and plans must be drawn to achieve success. 
    • Someone who knows the key players and is comfortable working with them.  
    • Someone who is organized and can inspire volunteers to join the effort.
    • Someone who is passionate about increasing the flow of students through a pre-law program. 
  • Counseling Champion

    In addition to a Program Champion, who provides the energy to the development of the program, successful programs have a person that will work closely with the students and champion their goals and needs.

    There are many lists of the quality of a good or effective leader. All of those qualities would be advantageous for any task. In addition, this “champion” must have these traits to work effectively with students: 
    • Passion for guiding students to achieve their goals. 
    • Patience helping students complete their program and apply to a four-year college;
    • Energy to organize and attend pre-law events; and  
    • Resourcefulness to make the program work.

Examples of the roles, responsibilities, and functions of an Institutional Faculty Champion and a Counseling Faculty Champion. 



E. Securing Institutional Support

  • In addition to a strong Advisory Group and Champions, the path to approving the pre-law program needs support from key people along the institutional pathway. Each institution is organized differently, so each path will likely require buy-in from different people. But regardless of the path, this step is a key factor as you move your program forward. Here are some individuals and groups to consider. 
  •  Identifying Key People 
    • Community college students interested in a legal career 
    • Community college Board of Trustees 
    • Community college President 
    • Faculty, especially career planning or pre-law advisor 
    • Academic Senate 
    • If needed, district buy-in
  • Permanence – institutionalization and leadership succession planning 
    • Even after starting the program, you should still think about key individuals or groups that can provide support for your on-going program. There may be future budget or political issues that may jeopardize your program. Keep an eye out for future trends. 
    •  Your program will have a higher likelihood of success if the program is financially stable. At least, financial stability would eliminate any budgetary concerns. A later section offers some considerations for funding.