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The California Western School of Law (Cal Western Law) began as the first law school in the city of San Diego as the Balboa Law College. The law school operated from 1924 to 1946 under that name before closing. In the fifties, Balboa University–as it was then known–merged with another university to form California Western University in the city of Point Loma. The law school moved to a downtown campus and was once again educating lawyers. When the University changed affiliations again, the law school retained the name of California Western Law and eventually returned to being a private, independent law school. In 1973, the law school returned to San Diego in its current location adjacent to Balboa Park. Since moving, the law school has reduced class size, expanded its facility, and opened a new law library. Its many alumni include judges and notable attorneys including Afa Ripley, Jr., the Attorney General of American Samoa.


In 1980 Cal Western Law shifted to a trimester program that added additional flexibility to its Juris Doctor program. The degree may now be earned through a traditional three-year program, an accelerated two-year program, or through a part-time program. All programs have the same required courses. During the first-year program, students complete 30 units of credit while focusing on the fundamental courses of American legal education: civil procedure, contracts, criminal law, property, and torts. All students take skill-based courses in their first two trimesters. During subsequent trimesters, students are required to complete courses in constitutional law, criminal procedure, evidence, and torts. All students complete an additional two-semester program focused on skills training for the ethical practice of law. While Cal Western Law recommends additional courses, the remainder of the curriculum is elective.

Cal Western Law’s trimester program allows student to complete the J.D. program within two full years. Students are also allowed to begin the program in either the fall or spring trimester (August or January). Part-time students use four trimesters to complete the first-year curriculum. Afterwards, part-time students take 8 to 11 credits per semester until earning their Juris Doctor degree.

Cal Western Law offers nine areas of specializations that suggest course work to prepare students for various professional careers. Additionally, all students are able to take advantage of the law school’s bar review program that includes coursework during their second or third years as well as a post graduation program that prepares them for the California Bar exam.

Additional Programs

Cal Western Law offers a Master of Laws (LL.M) and Master of Comparative Law (M.C.L.) program for internationally educated attorneys. The law school was one of the first in the country to educate foreign lawyers in the United States. Both programs require students to complete an introductory course to the American legal system as well as a course covering the fundamental skills of legal research and writing. The M.C.L. program requires a total of 18 hours of coursework (over at least two trimesters) while the LL.M requires an additional 6 hours as well as the completion of a substantial writing project. Both degrees are taught in English and require students to demonstrate English proficiency.

In conjunction with San Diego State University, Cal Western Law offers its Juris Doctor candidates the opportunity to earn a second professional degree as part of a dual degree program. Dual degrees are earned concurrently, affording students the opportunity to save time and experience an interdisciplinary approach to the practice of law. In conjunction with San Diego State University, students may earn an M.B.A. alongside their J.D or a Master in Social Work (M.S.W.). Both the M.B.A. and M.S.W. compliment the J.D. program as these professional areas often overlap and intersect with the law.

Career and Career Placement

Based on recent employment outcome data, approximately 76% of all graduates of Cal Western Law are employed within 10 months of graduation. Of those employed, 85% found long-term, full-time careers. The overwhelming majority (95%) found careers that either requires a law license or prefer a Juris Doctor degree. Traditional law firm work accounted for 60% of all employed graduates’ first career choice. Small law firms of 1 to 10 attorneys was, by a substantial margin, the most common choice for graduates. Graduates also opted for careers in the business sector, government offices, or the public interest sector as nearly the same rate (approximately 11% of employed graduates for each). Almost 5% of graduates secured judicial clerkships in the federal or state courts. Most graduates–over 87%–remain in California to begin their professional careers.

At Cal Western Law, the Career and Professional Development Office (CPDO) works with every student to prepare their plan to transition from their academic careers into their professional lives. To accomplish this transition, the CPDO provides a range of services and programs including career fairs in conjunction with a number of other Southern California law schools, an alumni career advisor network or mentor program, and an incubator program that helps students start their own legal practices. The CPDO brings lawyers onto campus for informal lunchtime discussions as well as panel discussions to help students understand the various career opportunities available to them. Students also participate in professional training that covers interview and resume skills as well as professional online management.

Experiential Learning/Distance Education

Experiential Learning, or EXP as it is called at Cal Western Law, is built into the curriculum from the very first semesters of the Juris Doctor program. This reflects the law school’s objective of graduating attorneys who are ready to practice law in the modern legal climate. Students are introduced to legal skills in their first two trimesters followed by a two-semester STEPPS course that builds on those skills.

All students are required to take additional EXP credits either through the clinical or externship program. The clinical program includes six different practice areas that combine classroom work with a representation of real clients. Students are able to advocate in real-world cases in practice areas ranging from community law issues to trademark cases. The clinic is hands-on training under the supervision of faculty experts. The externship program mimics the clinical program with both a classroom and a practical component. However, instead of an in-house legal clinic, students are placed in external legal offices. In the classroom, students are able to reflect and learn from their practical experiences.

Cal Western Law also offers an impressive selection of simulation based courses. In these simulation, the classroom mimics the real world of the legal practice as students address simulated legal problems under the supervision of faculty. Simulations allow students to work through more complex legal problems without the risk of a live client.

Student Life

Cal Western Law is passionate about helping its students succeed both in and out of the classroom. The law school offers a tremendous amount of academic support and initiatives designed to help students manage their coursework and succeed in school. Outside the classroom, Cal Western Law offers its student’s health and wellness support through counseling services and programming that stresses the need for a balanced approach to the practice of law. The school hosts a number of student organizations where classmates build relationships and vocalize the student body’s diverse viewpoints.

Located in the heart of San Diego, Cal Western Law places in the heart of one Southern California’s most unique and diverse students. Housing around the law school offers students convenient, walkable access to campus as well as one of the most thriving areas of the city. More affordable options are widely available throughout the city that can meet any budget. Just a few blocks from the law school is the city’s famed Balboa Park–the home of the San Diego Zoo. In the other direction, San Diego’s waterfront is a short walk from the law school and provides dining, shopping, and entertainment options. In all, San Diego is a vibrant and eclectic city that provides students with a unique experience as they study law.

Ready to start your journey?

Ready to start your journey?