Throughout the summer, Fordham Law School will host a trio of programs aimed at preparing high school and college students from underrepresented communities for careers in the legal field. Students will learn about the justice system, participate in mock trial competitions, and gain the skills needed for academic success.
Each of the three programs focuses on introducing the legal field to a slightly different population. Scales of Justice Academy focuses on young women, the Law and Justice Institute focuses on college-bound students from New York City public schools, and the Skadden Arps Honors Program in Legal Studies at CCNY focuses on low-income and underrepresented college students interested in pursuing a legal education.
“The Scales of Justice Academy gives promising girls great support in exposing them to law school, professional and courtroom settings. It really has been phenomenal,” said Fordham Associate Dean for Experiential Education Leah Hill, who works as a teacher and mentor with Scales of Justice.
Scales of Justice was founded by the Honorable La Tia W. Martin, a Bronx County Supreme Court justice who created the program with the intention of opening legal careers to young women attending public schools in New York City. During the three-week program, participants hear from distinguished legal practitioners and take trips to law firms and courtrooms throughout New York. The program culminates in a trip to Washington D.C. to visit national monuments and the United States Supreme Court
“I conduct a lecture on academic success focused on how to prepare for law school. Thereafter, I visit the program at least two times a week to let the girls know that Fordham is their home and that they should feel comfortable here and that they belong in law school,” said Hill.
Instilling a feeling of belonging in those traditionally excluded from the legal profession is at the core of the Law and Justice Institute’s mission as well.
“The Law and Justice Institute is a five-week intensive criminal law program that works with rising ninth-graders from public schools all over New York City,” said Legal Outreach managing director of legal education and Fordham Law graduate Grace Pickering ‘08. “It gives them the opportunity to learn about the law, participate in a mock trial, and re-engage with our justice system.”
The institute was created by Legal Outreach co-founder James O’Neal. While a student at Harvard Law School in the early 1980s, O’Neal observed that most of his classmates came from families with privileged college traditions, and that few were first-time attendees like himself. By introducing ninth-grade students to the law, the institute tries to swell the ranks of first-generation law students attending institutions like Harvard.
“It’s always slightly chilling to talk to my students who at 13 or 14 have been stopped by the police,” said Pickering. “A lot of our students are seeking fundamental, practical knowledge about the legal and judicial systems.”
In addition to general information about the criminal justice system, the institute provides its attendees the tools they need for academic success. The institute is the first part of the College Bound program, from which some 80 percent of Legal Outreach’s graduates complete a four-year college degree, in sharp distinction to their peers, fewer than 50 percent of whom graduate from college in four years.
The Skadden Arps Honors Program in Legal Studies focuses on making legal education a reality for low-income and underrepresented students already in college. The City College of New York, in partnership with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, provides students with a stipend needed to participate in a legal internship, mentoring from practicing lawyers, and academic skills workshops that tutor them in legal writing and LSAT preparation.
As part of the program, students visit law schools around New York City in order to learn about the reality of studying at those institutions, and how best to prepare their applications for admission.
“The Skadden Arps Honors Program helps create a kind of pipeline to Fordham Law, with a handful of program students applying to the Law School each year,” said Elizabeth Cooper, associate professor and faculty director of the Feerick Center for Social Justice. “It’s a wonderful way of forging a connection to students who may not necessarily know much about Fordham, or about what a Fordham legal education is all about. We always feel fortunate when honors program students later choose to enroll in the Law School.”