Turning a childhood dream into reality

From a young age, student Melissa Riley knew she wanted a career in law. With the Hybrid J.D. program, she doesn’t have to delay this dream because of other responsibilities.

Most kids don’t try to break up fights on the playground by hearing both sides of the argument and then making a judgment—but for Melissa Riley, this was exactly how she “held court” over her peers.

“I always wanted to be a judge and would ask my friends to let me settle disagreements. I always liked to decide who was right and who was wrong. Eventually, adults told me that if I wanted to be a judge, I’d have to go to law school. So I knew from a young age that was my path,” Riley says.

Riley’s family has a long history of jobs in law enforcement, so a career in law and order was a natural progression. During her first year of community college, she became a mother and knew that her dream would take a bit longer—but she was still determined. After finishing community college and then her bachelor’s degree in political science as a single mother, she began to wonder if traditional law school was the answer.Riley Melissa

“I was working as a legal assistant full-time, along with raising my daughter, so I had to reassess my plans,” Riley explains. “I started to think, ‘Do I want to put everything on hold to go the traditional route or is there something more practical that suits my life but still gets me to the ultimate goal?’”

The search for something more accessible led her to The Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law. Initially applying for the on-ground program, she learned about the first Hybrid J.D. class and realized this unique opportunity was perfect for her needs. Riley now serves as the Colleges of Law’s Student Bar Association Hybrid J.D. president and is excited about the distinctive experiences the format offers.

“Being a part of the inaugural Hybrid J.D. program has been a privilege. Not only do I get to ‘attend class’ during the week on my schedule that I balance with working and being a parent, but I also get to spend monthly weekend residencies with my classmates and professors,” Riley says. “I do not know many people who are able to enjoy a Saturday morning with their Torts professor. Being at the forefront of the first hybrid program approved by the California Bar Association is very exciting as we are blazing the trail for the future of legal education.”

Because the program is geared toward working adults, fellow students connect on a different level. As Riley explains, most of the students already have a career and many have families as well, so they’re well-versed on prioritizing their future career options while still juggling their current situations.

The Colleges of Law’s Hybrid J.D. program offers many non-traditional students an opportunity to become active members of the legal community that they may not have been able to pursue otherwise. Many, like Riley, have always had a passion for law and ultimately helping the underserved.

“Many times in our lives, we need help. Even when we prefer not to admit it, we do—whether it is help from our friends and family, or attorneys and judges. There was a time in my life where I found myself vulnerable and sought legal help,” Riley says. “Fortunately, I was able to overcome such a trying time with the help of an attorney to navigate me through family law. This is why I am pursuing my law degree; I want to empower others in the same manner that I was empowered.”

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