By Lyle Moran
Daily Journal Staff Writer
Monterey College of Law plans to open a new campus that will be the only state-accredited law school in Kern County, news that has been well received by the local legal community looking for new hires.
Kern County College of Law will be located in Bakersfield and is set to open next summer.
Isaac St. Lawrence, president of the Kern County Bar Association, said the region could use a stronger supply of young attorneys. “Bakersfield has a thriving legal community, but without a law school it makes it challenging to find new associates or attorneys to hire,” said St. Lawrence, an equity partner at McMurtrey, Hartsock & Worth in Bakersfield. “Having a law school in town will enable local students to attend a local school and be integrated into the local job market.”
The new campus will give the Monterey school three locations, which also includes the San Luis Obispo College of Law, opened in 2015. “We are delighted to extend our family of nonprofit, accredited law school locations to serve the communities of Kern County,” said Mitch Winick, president and dean of Monterey College of Law.
“With a regional population of almost a million people and an economy fueled by the energy, agriculture, and ranching industries, we see this as an important opportunity to respond to the education needs of a large underserved population,” Winick continued.
Winick said another reason for his enthusiasm is that both CSU Bakersfield and Bakersfield College have very strong pre-law programs.
He is hopeful that a number of students in those programs will choose to attend Kern County College of Law, which received approval to open from the State Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners in August.
Winick also said he is optimistic his school and the two schools with pre-law programs in Bakersfield can collaborate to ensure that participants are taking writing and critical thinking courses that would set them up well for law school. “We walk into a community that is pre-warmed to start directing undergraduate students into legal education,” Winick said.
Bakersfield previously was home to the state-accredited California Pacific School of Law, which operated for about a decade before closing in the early 2000s.
Kern County College of Law will be a part-time, evening program that could be completed in 3 1/2 years.
Brandon Stallings, a deputy district attorney in Kern County, said he believes the new flexible and affordable school should be a great fit for the region. “I have talked to a lot of people here in Kern County who want to go to law school, but don’t come from a socioeconomic background where they could afford to take three years off,” said Stallings, a State Bar board member. “This school provides an opportunity for those individuals who may not have the means to take that time off.”
Winick said the Bakersfield campus hopes to attract students who want to work in the local legal industry after they graduate and pass the bar.
He believes Monterey College of Law was able to open a branch in San Luis Obispo and is poised to open another new location in the midst of tough times nationally for law schools because of its focus on regions that need more attorneys.
“We are doing well because we are responding to a market need, versus big schools that are trying to shove lawyers out into markets where there is not a need,” Winick said.
“The justice gap in the rural counties where we are is getting worse, not better,” he added.
Monterey College of Law has typically had local lawyers and judges teach courses, a model it plans to continue in Bakersfield.
C.M. “Bud” Starr, a longtime Kern County deputy district attorney who recently retired, will be the founding dean for the new law school.
Kern County College of Law started accepting applications at the start of November. Winick said the school hopes to enroll 15 students in its first class.