Pathway to Law
Alexander Gomez and Nilou Sheikhpour had dreamed of becoming lawyers since childhood. Now, through Santa Monica College’s Law Pathway program, they are gaining a solid educational foundation and real-world legal experience—all while earning priority admission review at selected California law schools.
In 2016, SMC joined the California State Bar Association’s Pathway to Law School initiative, a collaborative effort of the Bar, 29 community colleges, and six law schools—Loyola Law School Los Angeles, UC Santa Clara, UC Davis, UC Irvine, University of San Francisco, and USC Gould—to help diversify the legal profession and smooth the path to law school for underrepresented students.
The program currently offers nine courses—including two created specifically for the program—along with mentoring, exposure to careers in law, networking opportunities, leadership training, and an experiential-learning component at one of several legal service organizations in the area, including Neighborhood Legal Services, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and Bet Tzedek Legal Services, where Alexander volunteers.
“They’re getting hands-on work experience,” notes SMC political science professor Christina Gabler, faculty lead for the Law Pathway program. “Our students talk with clients, learn what their issues are, and work side by side with legal professionals to help deal with those issues.” Other members of the Law Pathway team include Dana Nasser, who teaches Business Law, and counselor Vicenta Arrizon.
“[The SMC Law Pathway] has opened the door for me…provided me with opportunities I didn’t think were possible at the community-college level.”
– SMC Student Alexander Gomez
“This has opened the door for me and given me that extra push,” says Alexander, a communication studies major. “It’s provided me with opportunities I didn’t think were possible at the community-college level.”
“I’ve had friends who work in law offices, and they didn’t learn as much as I did in just one day in my internship with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles,” says Nilou, a political science major. “It’s super interesting. I helped a woman file for a restraining order and went through the whole process with her. And that was just my first day.”
As we grow the program, we hope to have both private and public organizations as experiential-learning partners, as well as law firms,” says Professor Gabler. “So a student interested in entertainment law can intern at a firm specializing in that.”
As part of “Experiential Learning in the Law,” taught by Professor Gabler and the capstone course of the Law Pathway program, students journal about their experiences, write a research paper related to their internships, and learn how to draft legal briefs, among other activities. Another new course developed for the program—Introduction to Law—explores constitutional law.
The program also covers noncognitive skills attorneys need, says Edna Chavarry, interim director of Academic Affairs Initiatives. “It’s a very conservative field, and you have to pick up the style of communication, dress, and mannerisms of being an attorney,” she says. A partnership with the SMC Business Department gives Law Pathway students access to business attire. “We also discuss questions likely to be asked during an interview.”
Director Chavarry has big plans for expanding the program. “I’d like to see a much larger graduating cohort,” she says. “I want them to be proud of having come through the pathway.”