Leading Legal Minds: Jimmy Paulding

Arroyo Grande Councilmember Jimmy Paulding uses his legal education to help give back to his community. 

Alumnus and Arroyo Grande Councilmember Jimmy Paulding has always felt a special connection to his community. Born and raised in Arroyo Grande, California, and the son of a local police officer and junior high and high school teacher, this deep connection drives his desire to give back, which he now does through his law firm and as a member of the city council.  

Paulding, who studied City and Regional Planning at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo before graduating in 2008, had always been interested in public policy. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he landed a job managing multi-million dollar public works projects throughout California. It was here that he discovered the path to his true calling—if he was willing to put in the work.

“I was always interacting with different attorneys at the Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, and other attorneys who work in the municipal sector or public law. I was generally impressed with the caliber of their work,” Paulding says. “So I finally came to the conclusion that law school would be a great next step for me—whether to use it as background for public policy or to ultimately get into the fields of mediation and arbitration.”

Paulding knew he wanted to serve locally, which meant he didn’t need an ABA-accredited law school—but he still wanted a rigorous, quality education that would prepare him for the California Bar Examination.

“I did my research and found The Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law,” says Paulding, adding that it was the school’s reputation that solidified his decision. “It was a pretty big commitment because I still live in Arroyo Grande, which is about 1 ½ hours north of the Santa Barbara campus. So I was commuting two or three nights per week and still had my job as a project manager at the time. It was difficult but worth the effort. It ended up just being a great experience.”

While some law school graduates’ primary focus may be the practice of law, Paulding had different plans. He hoped to apply everything he learned to pursue a career in public service. “It’s all connected,” he says. “I want to work in the legislative branch, eventually, creating policy. And the judicial branch is equally important in interpreting policy and the law. So for me, to really understand the mechanics of what the law is and how it functions, and to go as in depth as you do in law school, learning every area, and being held to a higher standard—it was extremely beneficial.

“You also get trained to think like a lawyer. I now have a better set of analytical skills, reading proficiency, and writing proficiency. These are things that everyone uses day-to-day—whether in public service or as an attorney. I can’t imagine any experience besides law school, and specifically the experience I had at The Colleges of Law, which could train somebody in those areas.”

Since graduating from The Colleges of Law in 2016, Paulding has used his legal education to fuel his desire to give back to the community that raised him. And he credits the rigor of law school with preparing him for life after, which hasn’t slowed down. In June 2018, Paulding narrowly lost the race (by 60 votes out of more than 18,000) to win a seat on the County Board of Supervisors in District 4 of San Luis Obispo. But in November 2018, Paulding was elected to his hometown’s city council. As a councilmember, he has focused on securing sustainable water sources and public safety in the local community, with a longer-term focus on leveraging his expertise in law, city planning, and construction management to help address the issues of affordable housing, homelessness, and sustainable community design.  

“We’re living in a time where, politically, the further you go up the more dysfunctional it becomes. So, I think it’s at the community level where we can really create meaningful change, and effectuate that change,” Paulding says. In addition to his civil service, he has also opened a local law firm with a focus on estate planning, real estate, and business law. “To me, helping clients with their legal needs is a service function much like public service. I enjoy working with clients and citizens alike, and firmly believe it’s time for the millennial generation to do more in the public service arena.”

Paulding stands as an example of the diverse range of possibilities that a legal education can provide. He is also a testament to why The Colleges of Law is so committed to increasing accessibility to legal education—to give those who might otherwise not have the chance to pursue a legal degree the opportunity to realize their dreams.

“So much of what you can accomplish is based on your hard work. If you want to succeed in the practice of law, you don’t have to go to an Ivy League school to get there. If you don’t have those scholarship opportunities or funding opportunities, there are real quality alternatives, and I am one example of that,” Paulding says. “I just encourage anyone considering the practice of law to consider other options, such as The Colleges of Law. You’re going to come out a completely different type of professional, with different reading, writing, and analytical skills—better communication skills in general—that will ultimately help you in any profession you choose. I just can’t imagine an experience as difficult and challenging as what I went through with The Colleges of Law. It changed everything for me. To graduate with a degree, pass the Bar on my first try, and not have any debt—I think that is the true value The Colleges of Law can offer people.”

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