Al Jenkins>> I always say that some people believe that they can go to heaven, but nobody wants to die to get there.
As Hena Cuevas tells us, Al Jenkins
is improving their chances considerably.Hena Cuevas>> Al Jenkins, a former prosecutor, saw a serious problem in our legal system and decided to fix it not in a courtroom, but in the kitchen of his Los Angeles home.
Al Jenkins>> "Everybody turn to the first page in this document, last paragraph."
Hena Cuevas>> These law students are studying for the toughest exam of their lives, the bar.They're here because only thirty percent of African-Americans pass the dreaded bar on the first try compared to almost seventy percent for whites.The drilling coming from this man is precisely what they're here for.
Al Jenkins>> "All right.I'll be dictating, you be copying what I say."
Hena Cuevas>> Jenkins
, sixty-nine and retired, takes a tough approach to coaching.
Hena Cuevas>> This is Holly Hightower's first session with Jenkins
.Like two-thirds of black law school graduates, the bar is the one test she
hasn't been able to pass yet.Next July will be her
third and, she
hopes, last try.
Al Jenkins>> It's a dirty little secret that lawyers want everybody to think that law is so complicated, but it really isn't.
Hena Cuevas>> Most bar exam prep courses cost about two thousand dollars.Jenkins
doesn't charge a penny and he
doesn't have to advertise.
Al Jenkins>> It just evolved.
Al Jenkins>> They have to let me harass them for one session.After that, they can then submit essays through the mail or call and ask questions by phone.
Al Jenkins>> "Read this paragraph."
>> "It is very important to note that sub-issues are every bit as important as the issues themselves when it comes for all concerned."
Hena Cuevas>> Twice a year, he
offers three sessions a day starting at one o'clock and going until ten p.m.
Al Jenkins>> "Underline identify, underline analyze."
Hena Cuevas>> Passing the bar exam is what turns law school graduates into practicing attorneys.This building houses the offices to the State Bar of California
.Membership to the Bar gives attorneys the right and the privilege to practice law in the state.According to a survey they conducted in 2001, less than three percent of the attorneys practicing in the state are black.Jenkins
is determined to raise that three percent.
Al Jenkins>> "First page, read out loud to me, please, including the head notes."
Hena Cuevas>> Their first lesson?
...Al Jenkins>> -- "must not."
Al Jenkins>> Why is it that the average person who wants to pass the California Bar
believes they can do so without learning the law?
Hena Cuevas>> Fear is one motivator, but Jenkins
also instills confidence.
Al Jenkins>> I always like to mention to them that dumb lawyers pass the bar all the time.There are an awful lot of dumb lawyers out there.Dumb lawyers pass because they know they're dumb, so they work hard.
Hena Cuevas>> Part of the reason so many blacks don't pass the bar, he
says, is their own expectation of failure.
Al Jenkins>> They believe that there's somebody out there trying to keep this exam from them.It's my position to tell them that that is not true, that the bar is passable, that it is not the same as rocket science.
Hena Cuevas>> How do you convince them?
Al Jenkins>> Just talk to them and rant and rave.I scare them straight (laughter).Hena Cuevas>> Jenkins graduated from Cal State Los Angeles with a math degree.His
career change started with something most try to avoid: jury duty.
Al Jenkins>> Two weeks on jury duty, I said to myself, now that's what I want to do.It fascinated me.
Hena Cuevas>> So at the age of thirty-six, he
went back to law school.He graduated from Loyola at forty, passed the bar on the first try and went to work in the D.A.'s office.
Al Jenkins>> I would meet students in the cafeteria around six-thirty and stay with them until about seven-thirty or eight and go to court.I'd meet them at lunch hour and then, at night, I'd tutor from seven-thirty until eleven.I did that five days a week, then I did it on the weekends.
Hena Cuevas>> He
tutored about two thousand students.Thanks to their hard work and his
success rate is seventy percent.
Al Jenkins>> People have offered to pay me and I tell them that money cannot pay for time.Time is more important than money and the impact I'm having, the legacy I'm leaving, is much more valuable than money.
Al Jenkins>> "Say again."
Hena Cuevas>> For the time being, Jenkins
services to African-American students.