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Breaking Barriers and Building Pathways: Access to Legal Careers
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Karen DeMeola (far left) looks on at the launch of the Pathways to Legal Careers event.

 

The Connecticut Bar Association (CBA) is a voluntary non-profit member service organization, dating back to 1875, with almost 10,000 members. The CBA does not regulate the admission of attorneys to the practice of law in Connecticut.

An important goal for my year as CBA president is to bring to the forefront issues impacting access to the profession. Justice is a social good, and we all benefit from a strong, competent, and vibrant community of attorneys admitted to practice. Data suggests that the number of admitted attorneys will be shrinking in coming years despite continued growth in the need for legal services. Our commitment to access to justice, diversity and inclusion, and the future of the profession necessitates consideration of obstacles to entry into legal practice, and we have taken some first steps to address this problem.  In May 2017, the CBA launched the Pathways to Legal Careers pipeline program, which focuses on making visible the path to a legal career to communities who may not know lawyers or think that such a career is possible for them. The inaugural event brought 350 middle and high school students to UConn School of Law to hear from a diverse group of practitioners about what they do, why they pursued a legal career, and what steps students should take towards acceptance into law school. As we work to break down these barriers to the profession, we know that the journey from dreaming about a law degree to admission to the bar remains long and, for many, may be very difficult.

A thriving bar is an important part of solving the access to justice issues we face. Nationally, law students have changed over time. Students take different roads to obtain an undergraduate degree and come from a variety of majors, professional careers, and experiences. There is an almost perfect gender balance and, though we could do better, our law schools are more diverse. Students are also entering law school with a wider range of experiences with life and its challenges. Whether those difficulties are based on poverty, mental health, disability, past conduct, addiction, or educational disparities, these challenges can be barriers to our profession—not only in terms of success in law school but also to passing the bar and being admitted to practice.

As we focus attention on the pipeline to the profession, and the effect it has on access to justice, I believe we cannot ignore the issues that impact success in becoming an attorney.

 

 

 

Karen DeMeola
Connecticut Bar Association President