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Access to Law Initiative attorneys and advisors: (back row) Jake A. Walton ‘09, ALI Director and Visiting Professor Robert F. Seibel, Omar G. Nassar ’11, Eric A. LaGuardia ‘10 (front row) Advisory Board President Christopher C. Walton ’04, Robin J. Sassi ‘10, Lisa L. Wong ‘09, Tammy Sumontha ’00 (LL.M.)  (Not pictured: Elizabeth G. Blust ’09 and Rebecca Cervenak ’11)
California Western Launches Program to Serve Community, Support New Attorneys
Access to Law Initiative is first law office of its kind to open on the West Coast

SAN DIEGO, June 27, 2012 - California Western School of Law this month launched the Access to Law Initiative, which includes an "incubator" law office for attorneys in solo or small firm practice, providing free and low-cost legal services to the San Diego community. Modeled after the Community Resource Legal Network at the CUNY School of Law, the program is the first of its kind to open on the West Coast.

"Doing well by doing good"
The law office, located in downtown San Diego's Symphony Towers, houses eight attorneys who each operate their own practice and pledge to provide at least 100 hours per year of pro bono, public service, and “sliding scale fee” legal service. Attorneys are California Western graduates starting their own solo practice or small firm who seek to benefit from the mentoring and networking opportunities provided by the Access to Law Initiative and its advisory board, as well as an online network of other solo and small firm practitioners.

The program's director, Visiting Professor Robert F. Seibel, says the program underscores the law school’s commitment to preparing graduates for successful careers in the law, as well as its strong mission of pro bono service.

“The program follows the adage, 'doing well by doing good,'" says Seibel, who was introduced to the "incubator" concept while on the faculty at CUNY Law. "The expectation is that lawyers who serve the underserved will gain experience and make contacts that will lead to an economically viable practice, while making a difference in the lives of their community."

A leader in practical training for students
The Access to Law Initiative adds to a more than 30-year history of hands-on curriculum, positioning California Western well to meet new requirements under consideration by the State Bar of California, according to its executive director Joseph L. Dunn.

"With academic programs such as STEPPS, and clinical efforts like the California Innocence Project, California Western is already among law schools taking the lead in a combined focus on the academic and practical requirements of the law," says Dunn, a former California State Senator. "The Access to Law Initiative extends that preparation into the first years of practice, offering mentoring and learning opportunities to solo practitioners that will prove helpful throughout their careers."

California Western combines a traditional academic program with a strong focus on skills development and ethical practice, preparing students for success on the bar exam and in their legal careers. The Access to Law Initiative allows graduates to employ the skills and perspective developed through the second-year STEPPS course - emphasizing professional responsibility and reflective practice - and the third-year clinical internship program.

In adopting a curriculum presenting a sequence of courses that takes students from theory to practice, California Western follows the landmark MacCrate and Carnegie reports, as well as the Clinical Legal Education Association's "Best Practices for Legal Education," according to that organization’s past president Ian Weinstein, Associate Dean for Clinical & Experiential Programs at Fordham University School of Law.

"Law schools must educate more new lawyers who are prepared for and able to enter practices that address the critical unmet legal needs of many Americans. It is so difficult to find a lawyer for a family law problem, a housing law issue, or the many other legal problems that can loom so large for so many. Programs such as the Access to Law Initiative provide the support new lawyers need - especially in challenging economic times - to utilize those skills to build successful small firm and solo practices," says Weinstein.

Strong tradition of Community Engagement
California Western's strong public service program has been recognized with inclusion on President Obama's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for three consecutive years, and by the State Bar of California, which presented the law school with the President's Pro Bono Service Award in 2010.