A celebratory week

How many lawyers does it take to ensure our community has adequate access to legal representation?  (No, that is not the lead into a joke!) The short answer is, more than we have in Pierce County today.

Those of you who have lived in Pierce County for many years will remember the 1970’s when the University of Puget Sound was home to a well-regarded law school. UPS sold it to Seattle University in 1994 who subsequently moved it up north in 1999. 

That was a dark day for our community.  Having a local law school, where residents from our region can be educated and trained to serve our community is very important – and this comes from an engineer.  But, data shows Tacoma is the largest city in the U.S. without a law school.  As a nation of laws, we need a strong local cadre of legally trained people to serve in court as attorneys and then judges, but also key business and governmental leaders – five members of my Executive team have their law degrees.

Many community leaders saw the importance of re-establishing a law program here.  But three of them really stepped to the forefront – Valerie Zeeck, Bruce Kendall, and Steve O’Ban (Steve graduated from UPS Law School).  For more than a decade, they have been working hard – against a strong status quo – to make progress. And, more recently, Judge Lisa Mansfield has joined the team of super-advocates!

The first concrete step was to establish the Legal Pathways Program at University of Washington-Tacoma (UWT).  This program helps local UWT students prepare for law school and a legal career.  Prior to the Pathways Program, UWT was sending about 2 students per year to law schools – now they send about 30!  The Pathways graduates are finding great success in law school. One of the recent alumni was just named Editor-in-Chief of the University of Washington School of Law, Law Review, and another was recently admitted to Yale Law.

But they all leave our community to attend law school.

The next BIG step was announced this week in an innovative partnership between the UWT and the Seattle University Law School!

Called the South Sound Hybrid Hub, UWT and Seattle U School of Law have teamed up to give local residents access to legal training and provide significant in-person and virtual programming, counseling, networking, employment, and experiential learning opportunities and resources for both UW Tacoma undergraduates and students in Seattle U Law’s pathbreaking “Flex JD” hybrid-online degree program.

A celebration hosted by Seattle University President Eduardo Penalver (brother of Superior Court Judge Andre Penalver) and UWT Chancellor Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange was held on the UWT campus on Tuesday evening.  I particularly appreciate Chancellor Edwards Lange’s leadership on this key initiative for our community!

The hoped for outcome is that the newly minted lawyers will return to the Pierce County area to serve the legal needs of our region.  I know Michael Kawamura and his colleagues from the Department of Assigned Counsel will welcome the influx of legal talent as they continue hiring for key roles at the County.

The UWT celebration was fun and upbeat but the most joyful gathering this week was undoubtedly the annual Habitat for Humanity Changing Lives Luncheon with more than 640 people in the ballroom!  It’s one of my favorite events of the year!

It’s always uplifting to hear from current Habitat homeowners who have found lifechanging stability in having a home of their own. Once a parent and their family own a home, it opens the door to home ownership for them in the future in what is referred to as transformational “generational wealth.”

Of course, housing affordability is a huge issue in our community – especially for people of color. In fact, I was shocked to learn at the luncheon that the percentage of Black residents in Pierce County who own their own home is lower than when racial discrimination was legal in the 1960’s.  Think about that for a moment. During the era of restrictive covenants and redlining, a larger percentage of Black residents owned their own home than they do today. That’s one of the reasons that Habitat’s work to create more homeowners is so important.

I hope you get outside to enjoy the glorious weather coming to us this weekend.

Thanks for reading,