Joshua Johnson '26 Wants to Practice Criminal Justice and Civil Rights

Headshot of law student Joshua Johnson wearing suit and tie

Joshua Johnson ’26 received a full scholarship to attend UC Law SF as part of the California Scholars Program.

This story is part of a series of profiles on members of the incoming JD class of 2026 at UC Law San Francisco.

When Joshua Johnson ’26 accepted an offer to attend UC Law San Francisco on a full scholarship this year, he came one step closer to fulfilling a longtime dream.

Since age 7, Johnson said he knew he wanted to be a lawyer. He always loved to argue, and as a teenager, he grew passionate about issues of civil rights and criminal justice. But before he could get to law school, he first had to overcome obstacles.

Raised by a single mom with two brothers in Inglewood, California, Johnson said he knew paying for college would pose a challenge. That’s why he started his post-high school education at a community college near home before transferring to Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he studied psychology. He obtained several scholarships to help cover the cost.

“Affording college was always going to be an issue,” he said. “I was blessed that I received multiple scholarships to offset that.”

Johnson, 24, was accepted into UC Law SF’s California Scholar Program, which enrolls and financially supports California students who graduated from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and the American University in Armenia. Launched in 2018, the program creates a pipeline to the legal profession for those students.

“Programs like this make me feel I’ll be safe, treated fairly, and get the same access to resources and quality education from an institution that wants me to be here,” Johnson said.

Johnson is also a member of UC Law SF’s Legal Education Opportunity Program, which provides academic support and resources for those who have overcome significant disadvantages to access an outstanding legal education. “Law school is a completely new world to me, so I’m grateful to have that guidance coming into it,” he said.

As an undergrad, Johnson pursued many activities to help prepare him for law school. He interned for a county judge in Atlanta, competed on the Moot Court team at Morehouse, and spent a summer advocating for criminal justice reform with a New York-based nonprofit, Campaign Zero.

Most recently, he learned about the challenges of running a major court system as a judicial fellow at Placer County Superior Court this past summer. It was part of the Capital Fellows Program at California State University, Sacramento. While there, Johnson was mentored by the court’s CEO. He researched the need for a small claims night court and drafted a policy memo that led to a boost in pay for court-appointed psychologists and experts.

“I learned how the court deals with issues like staff shortages and budget deficits while still ensuring that everyone gets access to justice,” he said.

Looking to the future, Johnson said he hopes to practice criminal justice and civil rights after law school, but he’s open to finding other areas of interest while at UC Law SF.

“I truly do believe in access to justice for everyone and the fairness of the courts and our legal system,” he said. “That’s why we need programs like California Scholars that create spaces for individuals such as myself and members of marginalized communities to bring about change.”