Many industries lack racial and gender diversity, but the legal profession arguably ranks as one of the worst. About 85 percent of lawyers are white, according to the American Bar Association (pdf), and the majority are male (pdf).
Enter Esq. Apprentice, an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit that provides a pipeline to a career as an attorney without law school and without debt. The four-year program trains legal apprentices to pass the bar, connects them with mentor attorneys and legal work—all of which are requirements to become a lawyer. California is one of four states that allow legal apprenticeships, an age-old avenue that became less common with the rise of law schools toward the end of the 19th century (pdf).
While the community of legal apprentices is small relative to that of law school, it’s becoming increasingly organized in the Bay Area. But Rachel Johnson-Farias, a public-interest attorney, specifically founded Esq. Apprentice with the goal of targeting low-income people and helping them become social-justice-minded attorneys.
“If you’re someone from a low-income community who wants to stay in and work for low-income people, not only is law school prohibitively expensive, but it also doesn’t necessarily set you up for the work that you want to do,” Johnson said.