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Think there’s nothing new in pro bono? Meet Dear Future Colleague

Dear Future Colleague
Drawing on her own time and expertise and that of her fellow students, a law student seeks to help future legal colleagues.

Remember applying to law school? When are the deadlines? Is it better to apply earlier or later?

What’s the LSAT? And what number should I strive for? Remember scouring the internet for guidance?

Becca Human, a 2L at Harvard Law School, does. So she and several classmates set out to do something about it— and Dear Future Colleague was born.

“The basic idea behind the initiative is that we pair a volunteer law student or recent law grad with someone who’s preparing to apply to law school,” said Human.

The goal of the newly formed nonprofit is to provide free, helpful, and accurate information about the law school admissions process. Volunteers pledge two hours a month to mentor applicants through LSAT prep, personal statement edits, or any other aspect of an undergrads’ law school admissions journey.

A new way to give back

From participating in clinics in school and taking on pro bono cases in the real world, the legal profession is centered around giving back. Future lawyers need the same advocacy.

Dear Future Colleague is another avenue you can pursue to give back and allow the next generation of the profession to flourish and become more diverse.

“We treat our applicants the way we refer to them in our name: they’re our future colleagues,” stated Human.

“By coming alongside them and helping them however we can through the long, tumultuous, and complicated process that is law school admissions, we hope to create genuine professional connections and communities of people who will someday work together to change our legal systems for the better.”

Law students saw a gap

DFC started with just a few students at Harvard law posting on their Facebook pages, inviting others to reach out for free advice on admissions. They targeted underrepresented and minority applicants who may have been disproportionately disconnected from avenues of similar advice. “We received an incredible response,” recalled Human. “Each one of us received dozens of messages from people who had the desire, ability, and talent to pursue a legal career. But they simply had no idea where to start.”

As Human continued to connect with applicants, she realized she could answer all their questions in a short amount of time, even without a professional background in admissions counseling. It’s because she had been in their shoes not long ago.

The need for more volunteers grew immensely in just a short period of time. Nancy Fairbank, another 2L at Harvard law, started to reach out to ask other law students across the country to join in on their mission, and DFC was born.

“We envisioned a program that would match an underrepresented applicant with a single mentor who could commit to providing them with long-standing attention and advice,” said Human. The mentor would provide support, feedback, and resources that could be difficult for applicants to find on their own.

Admissions knowledge is power

Succeeding in the admissions process and in law school itself both involve high-stakes testing, strict yet inscrutable criteria, and the pervasive requirement of being “in the know.” In both worlds, if you have connections who can provide you with insider knowledge, you immediately have a leg up on your peers.

When Human applied to school, she realized she had no idea that the practice of “rolling admissions” meant she’d need to apply to a top law school months earlier than the deadline. Doing an internet search for “when are law school applications due?” results in official deadlines that may put students who wait to submit their application at a disadvantage, she said.

“Applying early gives you a distinct, provable advantage,” she said. “But how are applicants supposed to know this unless they know someone who can tell them?”

A mission for equality

Not only is this mentorship reassuring for applicants and a way for current students and new professionals to give back, DFC chips away at a fundamental issue in law schools across the nation. The law school admissions process “builds an inherent aspect of elitism into the law school selection process,” asserted Human. “We believe it disproportionately disadvantages populations who are historically underrepresented in the legal field.”

Human remembers being an undergrad and working several part-time jobs while she aimed for admission into one of the top law schools in the country. She said applying to law school became yet another part-time job because she couldn’t afford an LSAT prep course; she had to piece together her own information.

That made Human realize that if she faced these barriers as a reasonably privileged person, the process must have been even more difficult— or even impossible—for other groups.

“I wasn’t working to support a family, raising children, or facing deportation, and I wasn’t dealing with the immense physical and psychological burdens that state violence inflicts upon Black people, indigenous people, and other racial minorities every day in the United States,” she said.

So while on its face DFC works to pair mentors with law school applicants, its mission serves a greater purpose of helping traditionally oppressed sectors of society overcome admissions hurdles.

Help without a hefty price tag

Another mission of DFC is to remain a no-cost service. Access to resources is one of the greatest challenges law school hopefuls face. For the LSAT alone, students can spend thousands of dollars on prep books, courses, and fees.

Then come the admissions fees. If you want extra help looking over your application, that can cost big bucks. One expert consulting service comes at $300 an hour, with packaged help ranging from $3,800 to $6,500. Another also comes with a $300 an hour cost, and a package is $4,500. Less-expensive services are still $199 an hour and just under $3,500 for a package.

Though DFC isn’t able to provide the depth and intensity professional prep and admissions courses provide, it reduces costs for potential law students and brings firsthand knowledge to those applying to law school.

“Alongside the mentorship program, which is central to our vision, we also provide applicants with resources, guidance documents with basic information about the application process, and individualized advice for their unique situation,” said Human.

“We provide free LSAT prep materials where we can, relying on donations of old prep materials from our volunteers. And we’re expanding to provide advice and assistance for other graduate programs and elite scholarship applications.”

Since launching as an official nonprofit in August 2020, Human said applicants have increased their LSAT scores, refined their personal statements, and received more directed guidance on the admissions process.

“We’ve had many applicants reach out to tell us how helpful it is to speak to someone in law school who can not only help them with their application, but who also understands their personal background—someone who can help them visualize themselves in law school and working in the legal profession,” said Human.

Expansion is underway

After just a few months of official operations, the need for guidance is spilling into other admissions processes.

Look for the nonprofit to branch out to include mentorship programs for other graduate and undergraduate programs.

It’s also expanding its scholarship program by creating scholarship guidance documents with tips and tricks from past scholarship recipients. And it’s pairing underrepresented applicants with mentors from these scholarships who can help guide them through the application process.

“DFC isn’t a magic bullet, a golden ticket, or a glorified savior for the applicants who look for our services,” stated Human. But it is a way to level the playing field and give every applicant a fair shot at making their own impact in the legal world, she said.

Interested in offering your help? Start at DFC’s website. Or, like Human, maybe it’s time to make a difference by figuring out a way you can give back that nobody else has ever considered. Your only limit is your own imagination.

For more on Dear Future Colleague, see these video posts on Instagram from Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy and Bachelorette contestant/lawyer Rachel Lindsay.