For decades, young idealists eager to practice law on behalf of California's farm laborers and other indigent groups have learned their trade not in classrooms but at the elbow of veteran attorneys who serve as mentors.
California is one of seven states that allow prospective attorneys to skip law school and earn the right to practice by serving apprenticeships. The United Farm Workers in southern California has made steady use of the program, turning out half a dozen lawyers in 30 years with the same training method used by Abraham Lincoln.
Now comes Jessica Arciniega, a former UFW organizer who has completed her first year of study under Oxnard, Calif., attorney Barbara Macri-Ortiz, a former union lawyer who helped set up the apprenticeship program.
The two have tackled torts and consumed hours of contract and criminal law, combining volumes of book work with real-world experience gleaned from Ms. Macri-Ortiz's law practice.
And after hours, Ms. Arciniega has devoted an average of 20 hours a week to her studies, cramming well into the night and on weekends in a tiny library cubicle. Now she approaches her most important test yet. She is set later this month to take the First-Year Law Students' Examination - known as the Baby Bar - to earn the right to continue her path of study for three more years.
"There's no pomp and circumstance to this program; it's all about how to learn the law so you can help people," said Arciniega.