More than 100 years ago, Southwestern was established to offer a comprehensive legal education to qualified aspiring lawyers from all walks of life, and was one of the first law schools in the country to encourage the enrollment of women and minorities. Today, Southwestern maintains a commitment to its rich legacy of multiculturalism and access, and is one of the most diverse law schools in the United States.
A Diverse Community
To meet the diverse needs of the law school's 1000+ students, Southwestern is the only law school to offer four J.D. programs of study that differ in scheduling and instructional approach. There is a strong sense of community among the students who come from virtually every state and a dozen foreign countries, and represent over 250 undergraduate institutions. About two thirds have prior work experience or have already completed advanced degrees in a wide variety of disciplines from accounting to urban planning.
Women represent more than half the student population, while minorities make up over 37 percent, and students report fluency in 38 foreign languages. The average age in the entering class is 26, with a range from 21 to over 50. In recent years, Southwestern has had the highest representation of African American students and second highest of Latino/Hispanic students of any California law school. Faculty also reflect Southwestern's commitment to diversity; more than a third are women, over 20 percent are minorities, and several members identify as LGBT.
From the beginning, Southwestern alumni quickly became trailblazers in the profession and the greater community. The law school's first graduate in 1915 was Betty Trier Berry, the first woman in the U.S. to serve as public defender. Other Southwestern alumni went on to become California's first female African-American judge and first Native American judge, the first Latina trial court judge and the first female African-American appellate justice in the nation, and the first Chinese-American in the continental United States to serve as a federal judge.
Among Southwestern's many prominent minority alumni are the Hon. Arleigh Maddox Woods, Presiding Justice, California Court of Appeal (ret.); Hon. Ronald S.W. Lew, Senior Judge of the United States District Court; Hon. Otis Wright, Judge of the United States District Court; the Hon. Frances Munoz, Judge of the Superior Court of California, Orange County (ret.); the late Hon. Tom Bradley, Mayor of Los Angeles for 20 years; the late Hon. Julian C. Dixon, Member, United States Congress; Hon. Matthew Fong, former Treasurer of California; Hon. Denise Moreno Ducheny, Member, California State Senate; Richard Orosco, former Director of the IRS, Los Angeles district; and Hon. Ricardo Torres, former Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Southwestern has received recognition for its emphasis on diversity, most recently the 2014 State Bar of California Organizational Diversity Award - and was the first law school to receive this honor in the award's 13-year history. In 2012, Southwestern was one of the only law schools among the 48 U.S. colleges and universities to be recognized for "demonstrating an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion" by INSIGHT Into Diversity in its first Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Awards. Southwestern was once again one of just two law schools on the list in 2014 among the other 82 academic institutions. Southwestern was also listed as 15th on the National Jurist's "Honor Roll" of the most diverse law schools in the country, based on percentage of faculty and students in minority categories.
The law school was presented with the LEXIS-NEXIS Law School Racial and Ethnic Diversity Award by the California Minority Counsel, which cited Southwestern's "long history of encouraging diversity, its comprehensive efforts in admissions, financial aid, academic support and placement, support of its diverse student organizations, and its community outreach programs." Southwestern received the Myra Bradwell Award (the first law school to be so honored) by the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, for "promoting and advancing women lawyers and issues important to women." Hispanic Business magazine has also recognized Southwestern as one of the "top law schools for Hispanic students" for several years running; the Mexican-American Bar Foundation presented Southwestern with an award for its commitment to diversity. Southwestern is also a member of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU).
Office of the Dean of Students and Diversity Affairs
The Dean of Students and Diversity Affairs coordinates the development and implementation of initiatives to increase the admission, retention, and graduation of students of color, and students from other underrepresented groups, and also works with a variety of departments to foster a campus environment that recognizes, celebrates, and values diversity. The office offers one-on-one counseling and support for students, oversees the Dean's Fellows Program that provides course-specific peer counseling, and conducts diversity student orientation workshops, among other programs. The office also sponsors outreach efforts to local undergraduate and community college students as well as high schools. Crucial input is provided by the Dean's Black Advisory Council composed of prominent minority alumni and faculty.
Law Student Organizations
The wide spectrum of student groups on campus has included the Arab Law Students Association, Armenian Law Students Association, Asian-Pacific-American Law Students Association, Black Law Students Association, Christian Legal Society, Hunter Latter Day Saints Law Student Association, International Student Association, Iranian Law Students Association, Irish Law Students Association, Islamic Law Society, Jewish Law Students Association, Latino Law Students Association, Middle Eastern Law Students Association, Native American Law Students Association, OUTLaw, Southwestern Parents Attending Law School, and the Women's Law Association.
These groups provide a supportive academic and social atmosphere to foster personal development and to facilitate transition into the legal profession. They sponsor workshops, tutorials, mentoring programs, study groups, volunteer opportunities, community outreach, cultural and social events, alumni networking receptions, and hundreds of speaker presentations to meet diverse student interests.
Southwestern offers scholarships and financial aid programs to assist students from all backgrounds and financial need. The Wildman/Schumacher Scholarship Program provides up to full tuition renewable awards for entering students with exceptional leadership qualities and academic potential. Students from traditionally underrepresented groups are also encouraged to apply for other scholarships with specific criteria established by the donors, such as:
- Scholarships awarded to minority students (e.g., Bernard Burch Memorial Scholarship Fund, the Hon. Nate Holden Scholarship Fund)
- Scholarships awarded to women law students (e.g., Nancy H. Newman Memorial Scholarship Fund, Esther Harris Scholarship Endowment Fund, Molly Dilman Zimring Memorial Scholarship Endowment Fund)
- Scholarships awarded to students of particular ethnicities (e.g., Sarah Kim Scholarship Fund for Korean-American students; Eileen Camillo Cochran/The California Women Lawyers Association Memorial Scholarship Endowment Fund for women law students of Italian-American descent; Dino Hirsch Memorial Scholarship Endowment Fund for Hispanic law students; Justice Arleigh M. Woods Scholarship Endowment Fund for African-American students; and Robert and Gloria Devitch Scholarship Fund for Mexican-American students)
- Scholarships awarded to gay, lesbian, and bisexual law students (e.g., the Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Law Students Association Scholarship Fund, the Greener/McAllister Public Interest Grant)
Additionally, Southwestern assists students with applications for outside scholarships, such as the MALDEF Scholarship Program sponsored by the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Mexican American Bar Foundation scholarships, the Los Angeles County Bar Association Minority Scholarship Fund, the Beverly Hills Bar Association Foundation Scholarship Fund for minority law students, the Japanese American Bar Association Education Foundation, and the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association Scholarship, among others. As one example, $75,000 in scholarships was awarded to outstanding law students of Latino heritage at the 16th Annual Scholarship and Awards Gala of the Mexican American Bar Foundation, and of the 15 students chosen, a record eight scholarships were awarded to Southwestern students.
As part of the recruiting calendar of events, Southwestern sends representatives to graduate school fairs and other activities around the country geared toward traditionally underrepresented students. Special attention is given to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and HACU member institutions. The Admissions Office also encourages diverse groups of prospective students to visit Southwestern through a series of Open House programs and works with the Dean of Students and Diversity Affairs as well as officers of minority student organizations including the Black Law Students Association, the Latino Law Students Association, and the Asian-Pacific-American Law Students Association in coordinating myriad outreach programs and on-campus events.
In the review of applications, the Admissions Committee critically considers each candidates' significant work experience, upward trends in UGPA, the strength of the personal statement, letters of recommendation, overcoming a disadvantaged background and other life experience factors which would demonstrate the ability and motivation to succeed in law school.
Participation in Pipeline Initiatives
Southwestern is involved in various Pipeline initiatives in California and beyond to encourage youth from underrepresented communities to pursue careers in the law. These include the Legal Education Action Program (LEAP) with the Hispanic National Bar Association's Legal Education Fund, the Southern California Legal Diversity Pipeline Coalition, the Los Angeles County Bar Association Diversity Summit, Wingspread and the California State Bar efforts to ensure that those at each level within the pipeline are being sufficiently identified, trained and mentored. The law school has also developed Pipeline programs in partnership with the Los Angeles Public Defender's Office, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the Constitutional Rights Foundation, among other entities.
Outreach to Local Public Schools
Over the years, student groups, faculty and administrators at Southwestern have created programs and activities to encourage local inner city primary, secondary, and community college students to pursue higher education in general and to consider law school.
Southwestern regularly hosts students and faculty from Dorsey High School and Los Angeles City College as well as middle schools. As part of the program, co-sponsored by the Student Bar Association and groups such as the Latino and Black Law Students Associations, law students present a mock trial demonstration or client negotiation problem in the law school's Julian C. Dixon Courtroom, followed by discussions about higher education and opportunities in the legal profession. Southwestern students also serve as counselors in the Teen Court Program.
One of the most rewarding ways Southwestern students have become involved in the community is through the law school's 20+ year association with Hoover Elementary School. The outreach efforts at Hoover are designed to help local disadvantaged youngsters gain a better understanding of the legal system, as well as develop a sense of responsibility and desire to continue their education. Law students conduct ADR exercises at the Hoover campus, and mock trial and criminal law discussions at the law school for fifth graders from this local school that has the largest minority student population in the region. Southwestern students also connect with Hoover children and families beyond just law-related programs. For example, the Latino Law Students Association sponsors annual food, clothing and holiday toy drives, the latter of which provides the 1,000+ students at Hoover with the only holiday gift many of them will receive.