New partnership to support, broaden access to legal education and legal services

February 26, 2024 · By David Sandler
Decorative image with text: South Sound Hybrid Hub | Seattle U Law, UW Tacoma

Seattle U Law partners with UW Tacoma to launch innovative “South Sound Hybrid Hub”

The University of Washington Tacoma and Seattle University School of Law have forged a new and innovative partnership with the goal to increase access to legal education and careers, and legal services, for residents of Tacoma and the South Sound region, including those from underrepresented populations.

UW Tacoma is the founding principal partner of Seattle U Law’s new South Sound Hybrid Hub. This hybrid initiative will 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.

“We are excited to inaugurate this collaboration between Seattle University Law School and UW Tacoma. Our law school has deep roots in Tacoma and the South Puget Sound. This new initiative will provide an excellent opportunity to strengthen that relationship,” said Seattle University President Eduardo Peñalver, who is also a professor of law.

“Both UW Tacoma and Seattle University School of Law share a goal of bridging the equity divide and making law school an attainable goal for first generation and underrepresented students,” said Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange, chancellor of UW Tacoma. “Seattle U Law is unique in the state for being able to offer this hybrid model of legal education that serves place-bound students so well.”

Each institution has made significant strides to make legal education more accessible.

UW Tacoma offers a Legal Pathways Program, a state-funded initiative to help students prepare for law school, connect with the local legal community, pursue legal career opportunities, and more.

Seattle U Law launched the hybrid-online Flex JD program in 2021 to make it possible for aspiring lawyers who live in areas without convenient access to a law school, and who may have families and jobs that keep them in place, to earn law degrees and to stay in their home communities as attorneys providing much needed legal services. Currently, one-quarter of all Flex JD students hail from the South Sound region, in part because Tacoma is one of the largest communities in the nation without a law school.

Through a hybrid format, students can earn a law degree by completing most coursework online, with just a few in-person, weekend class sessions each year on Seattle University’s campus. The South Sound Hybrid Hub will host Flex JD activities for the benefit of students not only located in the South Sound but also elsewhere.

Seattle U Law also is rolling out Hybrid Hubs in Anchorage, Alaska and in the Yakima Valley to improve access to legal education across the Northwest. Each Hybrid Hub will have a founding principal partner institution that will connect with other participating universities in the area to create the greatest impact.

Anthony E. Varona, dean of Seattle U Law, conceived the Hybrid Hub concept after conducting a listening and learning tour with stakeholders throughout Washington and Alaska. Outside of Seattle and Spokane, both states have many “legal deserts” where there is no law school, great demand for legal education, and a shortage of lawyers to provide essential legal services. Varona envisioned the successful Flex JD program as an opportunity to build out a meaningful hybrid presence in regions like the South Sound to fill this void and provide opportunity and access.

Varona said, “the time is right to respond to the urgent need for a law school presence in the South Sound with a 21st Century, post-COVID hybrid online solution.” He notes, “hybrid legal education reflects the reality that the practice of law is now and will continue to be hybridized, utilizing online platforms strategically and in a pedagogically sound manner, with important in-person, physical engagement opportunities provided in partnership with key hub-based institutions. We are proud to launch our Hybrid Hubs Program in partnership with UW Tacoma, our founding principal Hybrid Hub partner in Tacoma and the inaugural institutional partner across all three regions.”

Patricia Sully, founding director of Legal Pathways at UW Tacoma, will support activities of the South Sound Hybrid Hub. A 2011 magna cum laude graduate of Seattle U Law, Sully previously served as policy director for the Public Defender Association and assistant director of the Access to Justice Institute.

In addition to serving Seattle U Law’s Flex JD students, the Hub is exploring a variety of programming that will benefit UW Tacoma’s undergraduate students, including an accelerated “Pathway to Admission” program. The law school’s faculty and administrators will also support pre-law academic advising as part of UW Tacoma’s Legal Pathways. A variety of events held on UW Tacoma’s campus – including public lectures, legal employer gatherings, Seattle U Law alumni receptions, legal career panels, and more – will help undergraduate students build their legal knowledge and connections.

UW Tacoma’s undergraduate student population is 61 percent students of color and more than half of the campus’s students are the first in their family to earn a college degree. According to research by the American Bar Association in 2020, just 14% of all U.S. lawyers are people of color.

“The South Sound Hybrid Hub promises to provide a unique opportunity to support, attract and retain South Sound students interested in law careers,” said Lakewood Municipal Court Judge Lisa Mansfield, who also co-chairs the Legal Pathways Advisory Board. “This powerful partnership will create greater capacity for equity in the legal profession by providing educational pathways for first generation and traditionally underrepresented students. Both UW Tacoma students and the whole South Sound community stand to benefit greatly from this historic collaboration.”

The partnership will be celebrated at an event on Monday, March 11, from 5 to 7 p.m. in William W. Philip Hall on the UW Tacoma campus at 1918 Pacific Avenue in Tacoma. The public is welcome.


Quotes are available from South Sound community leaders:

  • Vernon W. Harkins, Partner, Rush, Hannula, Harkins & Kyler PLLC
  • Bruce Kendall, CEO, Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County
  • Congressman Derek Kilmer (WA-6)
  • Judge Lisa Mansfield, Lakewood Municipal Court
  • Herb Simon, Simon Johnson LLC
  • Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland (WA-10)
  • State Sen. Yasmin Trudeau, D-Tacoma
  • Jim Waldo, attorney, Gordon Thomas Honeywell
  • Victoria Woodards, Mayor, City of Tacoma
  • Valarie Zeeck, attorney, Gordon Thomas Honeywell
  • Dave Zeeck, chair, UW Board of Regents

About the University of Washington Tacoma Legal Pathways Program

Launched in 2019 with the support of the Washington State Legislature, the University of Washington Tacoma’s Legal Pathways program is part of the Office of Community Partnerships. It is working to increase access to legal education and careers in the South Sound. UW Tacoma is at the forefront of efforts to ensure a more equitable legal profession, with the program prioritizing supporting first-generation students, students of color, and other students underrepresented in the legal field. The program has seen more than 100 students accepted into law school and runs more than 30 workshops and seminars each academic year. Additionally, local attorneys and legal professionals volunteer with Legal Pathways, serving as mentors, speakers, and role models for UWT students and alumni.

About Seattle University School of Law

Seattle University School of Law is a mission-driven, diverse, and civically engaged law school based in the heart of Seattle, offering a comprehensive legal education that goes beyond the classroom. Recognized as one of the most innovative law schools in the nation, Seattle U Law has graduated the most Thomson Reuters Super Lawyers of any law school in the Pacific Northwest and boasts a faculty ranked #1 in academic impact in the region (FLAIR). Seattle U Law students become leaders in law, with practical skills, knowledge, and drive to make a real difference for their clients and their communities. The practice-based curriculum features a renowned Legal Writing Program, top-ranked international and intellectual property/innovation law programs, a highly ranked clinical program, the Pacific Northwest’s only part-time program, and hundreds of learning opportunities around the globe. Seattle University’s Jesuit tradition infuses students’ legal education with a sense of purpose and a drive to action.

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