A program at College of the Sequoias in Visalia is giving local aspiring lawyers some extra help to get them into law school.

The California Community Colleges and the State Bar of California launched the Pathway to Law School program in 2014, teaming up with 24 community colleges to help students prepare for law school. 

“The point of the program is to make law school more realistic for kids who would never think to go to law school,” said Amy Pritchett a political science professor who helps administer the program at COS. The program is open to all students.

Pritchett said the Pathway students must take a handful of required classes, maintain a 3.2 GPA and take part in extracurricular activities like debate competitions, legal writing competitions and the Society of Legal Studies club.

Students also go on various field trips, including court tours, meetings with judges and visiting some of the participating law schools, most recently Loyola Law School.

“I try to take them to at least one school per semester,” Pritchett said.

Once students complete their undergraduate studies, they can apply at one of six participating law schools in the state. Students also receive assistance with financial aid and preparing for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

Those schools include University of Southern California Gould School of Law, University of San Francisco School of Law, University of California Davis School of Law, University of California Irvine School of Law, Santa Clara University School of Law and Loyola Law School.

“It’s not a guaranteed admission, but they’re going to give those students a second look,” Pritchett said.

Pritchett said there are 15 students currently enrolled in the program. Eight students from the program transferred to four-year colleges last year.

Rosie Palomino, a 24-year-old Kingsburg resident, was the first student to transfer from the Pathway to Law School program. Palomino said her background made becoming a lawyer seem unattainable. She said she is a first-generation high school and college graduate. Both of her parents were incarcerated during most of her childhood.

“My grandmother raised me and always encouraged higher education,” Palomino said.

Palomino said the Pathway to Law School program made her more confident that she could achieve her dream. She graduated with honors this month from Fresno Pacific University with a bachelor’s degree in criminology and is now applying to law schools. Her first choice is the UC Davis School of Law.

“Only 1 [percent] to 2 percent of lawyers are Hispanic women,” Palomino said. “I hope to become one of the individuals who make up the 1 [percent] to 2 percent.”

Pritchett said students are also paired up with mentors in the local legal community including private attorneys, judges and district attorneys. Those relationships can lead to opportunities like job shadowing and internships.

“It exposes them to different aspects of the legal field,” Pritchett said.

Mario Zamora, an attorney for the Hanford law firm of Griswold, LaSalle, Cobb, Dowd and Gin, serves on the advisory board for the program and acts as a mentor. Zamora said he grew up in the small town of Lindsay, where few of his peers considered becoming lawyers.

“I never thought of law school until two months before I took the LSAT,” Zamora said.

Zamora said local students who go to law school often choose to practice law elsewhere. He said he’s hopeful the Pathway to Law School program will help solve that problem.

“There’s a real lack of local talent,” Zamora said. “We have plenty of smart kids, but few of them come back.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2458 or meiman@HanfordSentinel.com.