As a first-generation college graduate, I did not know what kind of doors a college degree or a graduate degree could open. Coming from an economically disadvantaged background, I did not have the resources or the tools to leverage a college degree or graduate degree. At my local high school, there were no programs to introduce you to any work field.
In college, I decided to major in accounting simply because I was good in math and I thought it would lead to a lucrative career. As a first-generation college student, I struggled to find a calling and at the same time balance my goal of helping my family financially in the future.
I was first exposed to the law in high school. I took a very limited course that introduced students to criminal law. Although it sparked an interest, I was not sure if I could afford a college degree yet alone a graduate degree.
As I entered college and began my coursework for my accounting degree, I decided to apply during first college summer to a pre-law program. I was fortunate to be accepted to the Law School Admission Council PreLaw Undergraduate Scholars (“PLUS”) program in Arkansas. For a full summer, I was introduced to the LSAT, law school courses, and the law school application process.
Although it was a great program, I still was not sure if law school was for me considering the expense. However, the program did more than just introduce me to the application process. It helped me with my self-esteem. It made me believe that I could obtain a graduate degree and that it was not impossible for an economically disadvantaged student of color to aspire to attend graduate school.
During the PLUS summer program, I met other students like myself and I was immediately inspired by the other students. It made me feel as I was not alone. We relied on each other throughout the summer program and shared our backgrounds and goals.
I had a similar experience my second college summer at the Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO) summer institute in Chicago. I was introduced to the application process and the law school classroom. But, again what stood out about these programs were the students I met. I met lasting friendships at these programs.
Although I decided to work and obtain a masters degree after college, all the knowledge I obtained from these programs stood with me. When I finally decided to take the plunge and apply, I was fully equipped to navigate the law school application process. My friends who had participated in these programs helped with deciding which law school to attend and how to leverage scholarships throughout the admission process.
The network I developed through these programs and the confidence I developed was invaluable. I would have not applied to law school without these programs.
It is no surprise to anyone that despite years of effort, the profession still suffers greatly from lack of diversity. Although there is no magic formula that one can apply to increase diversity in the legal field, pipeline programs must definitely be part of the equation. Diverse students not only need the tools to navigate the application process, but also need to believe that they deserve to go to law school. These programs are crucial to developing confidence.
I was fortunate to meet likeminded law students that shared my belief that pipeline programs should be prioritized. My fellow BU Law classmate Johnathan Allen understood that the only way to diversify the field is to uplift diverse students. Allen and his partner created a non-profit, The Leadership Brainery, geared towards helping diverse students to aspire to attend graduate school.
We need more of these programs starting from a young age. With these programs, students can meet other students and know that they are not alone. In order to change the field, we must uplift diverse students and focus on programming that not only gives them the tools to apply but also gives them the confidence to strive for more.