San Joaquin College of Law celebrating 50 years

San Joaquin College of Law Dean Janice Person gives brief history of the school during their 50th year anniversary celebration kick-off. (Photo by Tomas Kassahun)

The San Joaquin College of Law in Clovis celebrated its 50th year anniversary on Monday, Jan. 7.  The school was founded in 1969 by a group of San Joaquin Valley judges who aimed to provide an opportunity for San Joaquin Valley residents to become effective legal practitioners.

What started as an institution with modest facilities and resources, grew significantly over the years.

“There have been over 1600 who graduated form the San Joaquin School of Law,” Janice Pearson, SJCL dean said. “They represent 33 percent of the practicing lawyers in Fresno County, 37.5 percent of the practicing women lawyers and 39 percent of the Hispanic lawyers.”

Monday’s event featured catering from Mad Duck, special guests and a brief history about the school.

Pearson said the legal community was not as diverse when she first came to Fresno.

“This law school has changed the legal community,” she said.

She adds that there are plans to expand the school in the near future.

“We have already entered into a lease purchase for the senior center,” Pearson said. “When the City of Clovis moves out of it, we will move in and it will be our law library study, computer center.”

Pearson said that plan is a couple of years down the road because they have to get the new senior center built first.

“That is a significant piece of growth for our law school,” Pearson said.

Vong Mouanoutoua, who graduated from SJCL in 2002, was one of the special guests at the 50th anniversary kickoff celebration.

“Law is something that is a part of the fabric of our lives,” Mouanoutoua said. “We forget that we have one of the best institutions in the Central Valley, if not Western United States, producing lawyers.”

Mouanoutoua said the law school is sometimes forgotten, but it will be an even bigger part of the community moving forward.

“We talk about Clovis Unified, we talk a lot about the Memorial District, but we keep forgetting about the law school,” Mouanoutoua said. “It’s an institution that produces higher education, produce careers that are lifelong and have alumni that are on Supreme Courts, judges and attorneys that are well known.”

The law school, which got its first full accreditation in 1974, has seen major facility transitions over the years.

“The first home for the law school was a shared round building with Fresno Pacific University,” Pearson said. “The school then bought what I can only describe as a strip mall building at Shields and First.”

Pearson said the school occupied one-fourth of the two available buildings, with State Farm Insurance occupying the other side.

“We slowly took that over, then we bought the building next to us,” Pearson said.

In 1997, the school occupied its current building in Clovis.

Pearson said SJCL received a donation from alumnus Darryl B. Freeman to help cover the lease purchase and renovate the senior center which will become the law library. Freeman gave the gift before passing away in December.

“When he discovered that he was extremely ill, he wanted to make sure that this gift was set no matter what happened to him,” Pearson said.

In recognition of the gift, the library building will be named the Darryl B. Freeman Law Library.

In front of the crowd gathered to celebrate the anniversary, Pearson revealed an artist rendering of the law library.

SJCL will continue to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary throughout the year. A family picnic will be held on May 11 to celebrate mothers and spouses who supported their law students during law school, as well as the mothers who attended law school.

On Oct. 19, a reception will be held to display the school history and pictures of every class from 1974- 2019.