Valley law school bucks national trend with increasing enrollment

FRESNO, Calif.

While some schools are offering buyouts and early-retirement packages to senior staff and are cancelling contracts with lower-level instructors, here in the Valley, enrollment is up and one Central California law school said it plans to expand as the population grows.

Cal Castaneda is a second year student at the San Joaquin College of Law.

"When I had this idea of law school I thought it was like "A Few Good Men" you can't handle the truth, but it's really not like that at all. It's really like a more hands on learning experience and understanding," said Castaneda.

The Valley resident said he was attracted to the college in Clovis because it's a small school with high standards and it has a history of educating local judges, lawyers and other legal professionals close to their homes.

"I intend to stay here and I want to be a part of the Central Valley legal community particularly because I'm from Sanger and I'd like to take it back to Sanger, the rural communities," added Castaneda.

Apparently he's not alone. This year, attendance is up by about 10 percent. A statistic dean Janice Pearson attributes to the high number of students who pass the bar exam and are employed within their first year of graduating.

"Couple that with the fact that tuition is about half of what it is at major institutions around the United States, particularly in California," said Pearson.

She says diversity is also a contributing factor. Not only amongst the students and staff, but the fields students have identified interest in studying.

"People are beginning to understand that the skills they acquire in law school can be used in a number of different environments. Plus there's a growing interest in copyright and patent law, a growing interest in online gaming," added Pearson.

Students like Cal Castaneda said it doesn't hurt having professionals like local attorneys and sitting judges on the staff.

"Like for example, I'm taking evidence so he can tell me from his perspective as a judge what he thinks is going to be relevant or irrelevant and it adds another level of understanding and comprehension that we wouldn't be able to get from a textbook," said Castaneda.

This year San Joaquin College of Law competed against top law schools like Berkeley, Davis and Hastings to take home the trophy in the California moot court competition. A contest school leaders say will also help put the local law school on the map.

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