The California Desert Trial Academy College of Law, which has 18 students, will hold classes at the Larson Justice Center’s Law Library on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights and at the nearby Leahy Educational/ABC Recovery Center on Saturdays.
The school was approved in June by the State Bar of California for registration as an unaccredited fixed-facility law school.
Founder John Patrick Dolan, a longtime criminal defense attorney based in Indio, is planning to use the old Ortega Furniture building in downtown Indio for the school’s permanent home. The new building will have three courtrooms, a legal clinic and a library.
The school will focus on teaching people to be trial attorneys, Dolan said, adding that students would learn practical courtroom skills to avoid having to climb a huge learning curve after school.
“It’s designed for people who want to go to the D.A., public defender, county counsel or go out on their own,” he said.
Each class will have two instructors so students can hear both sides of an argument, Dolan said. The school’s dean of students is Sue Steding, a retired chief assistant district attorney in the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
Former state legislator Julie Bornstein is dean of academics, and Palm Springs attorney Sheila Williams and Riverside County Superior Court Judge John Evans will teach classes. In their first year, students take contracts, criminal law and torts. Tuition is $12,000 a year.
Dolan said classes are scheduled so people who work full-time can attend.
“They’re mostly second-career people,” he said, adding that the first year will focus on preparing students for the first-year exam called the “baby Bar,” “so by the time they get to the `baby Bar,’ there’s no surprises. That’s different than most law schools.”
State Bar officials did a two-day inspection and met with school administrators and faculty in January. George Leal, director for educational
standards for the State Bar’s Office of Admissions, wrote in an inspection report that Dolan and his staff were “very cooperative and have promptly provided additional information to confirm that the law school is now compliant with the rules and guidelines.”
The school cannot seek accreditation until it establishes a track record, which includes complying with rules and guidelines and students taking the “baby Bar,” Dolan said.
Dolan said he expected the school to be in its own building by next year.