Kayleen Clements, a 56-year-old paralegal, always wanted to become an attorney.
She’s spent half a lifetime working in legal departments for oil and energy companies, researched obscure laws on weekends and even performed stand-up comedy. Her material? Illogical laws, of course.
Between getting married and having kids, she never found time for law school. Even if she had, there hasn’t been a law school in Kern County since California Pacific School of Law closed in the early 2000s.
That changed last year, when the Kern County College of Law announced it would be opening this month, rolling out a curriculum of night courses to accommodate working professionals. From start to finish, the part-time 3-1/2-year program costs about $50,000 — a fraction of what most law schools charge. Monterey College of Law officials, who launched the satellite program, said Kern was one of the largest regions in the state without a law school. It seemed a natural fit.
“My boss came in the room and said to me, ‘Give me one good reason you shouldn’t sign up,’” Clements said.
“My age,” she said.
Clements and her boss both knew that wasn’t much of a reason. So she applied, and now considers herself “a nontraditional student,” but that’s not necessarily the case at Kern County College of Law.
She’s one of 14 students in the law school’s inaugural class that includes a retired cop-turned-private eye, a probation officer, a bailiff, a file clerk, a couple of recent college grads and at least one journalism major who avoided the profession, among others.
The program emphasizes working with local students and having local attorneys and judges as instructors with the goal of getting students local jobs.
“These students get to meet people who are their references and employers right off the bat. By the time they graduate, they meet the leading lawyers and judges, and vice versa,” Kern County College of Law Dean Mitch Winick said, adding that it’s common for students at Monterey College of Law campuses to transition into jobs with their instructors or others they meet through school.
Kern County has long been considered a training ground for newly licensed out-of-town lawyers to get some experience then flee elsewhere. Kern County College of Law could change that, said Isaac St. Lawrence, a local attorney who’s serving as the school’s director of external affairs.
“By having local lawyers, you understand your clients a little better, and the longer a lawyer practices, the better they get. You have more experience to provide a better service to the community and a commitment to justice,” St. Lawrence said.
Students finished their summer session last week, capping it off with a roundtable discussion with prominent local lawyers, including Assistant District Attorney Scott Spielman; Aera Energy General Counsel Lynne Carrithers; bankruptcy attorney Lisa Holder; Adeyinka Glover, of Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance; and Henry Marquez, of the Indigent Defense Program.
They gave career advice, pointers to passing law school classes, and shared insights into the difficulties of their jobs.
Marquez’s advice? Start by surviving law school, which he described as “the worst” part about being a lawyer.
“It was not fun, it will get boring, you’ll want to quit. You need to stick through this law school thing. Being a lawyer is the baddest thing you can do,” Marquez said. “Being a lawyer is awesome. Being a law student? Not so much.”
The second worst part of being a lawyer? The bar exam, Marquez said. “Lots of people take it once, don’t pass, then they’re gone.”
Glover, who described herself as a stellar student through high school and college, struggled through law school, which she said requires a different kind of thinking and the ability to speak before an audience.
“You have to think like an attorney,” she said.
When she joined a mock trial team through the national Black Law Students Association, it turned things around for her, she said.
“I started raising my hand in class, because if I could speak before a judge in a very intense environment, then I could answer a question in a classroom setting,” Glover said.
Unlike most of the students at Kern County College of Law, Glover went straight to law school after college.
One local student, who teaches science by day, said she never anticipated enrolling, but that changed a few years ago when her daughter was heading home from high school softball practice, crossed the street, and got into an accident.
“I was thrown into the world of personal injury law,” she said. But despite how emotional the entire ordeal was, she found herself fascinated with the legal strategies her attorneys used. “It led me to where I am.”
These types of students, Winick said, are typical of the law school’s student body.
“These are individuals who have a career, who have maturity, who have life experience, and most of them have a pretty good idea of what they want to do with their law degree,” Winick said. “We don’t have problems with seriousness.”