The Illinois State Bar Association’s diversity pipeline efforts have already spawned at least one successful new partnership, with the promise of more to come.
During October, students from the Loyola Academy of St. Louis visited the Southern Illinois University School of Law, where they participated in a mock trial and talked about their career plans with members of the Black Law Student Association. The visit was arranged by Loyola Academy President Kevin Lee as a result of his participation in the ISBA’s Diversity Roundtable program in December 2006.
The Loyola Academy is an all-male Jesuit middle school. The school’s mission “is to serve boys who have the potential for college preparatory work, but who are in danger of failing to achieve that potential because of poverty, residence in distressed neighborhoods, or other social or economic factors.”
Loyola Academy faculty Pat Garrett and Matt Leonard accompanied 15 eighth grade students on the trip to the SIU School of Law. The visit gave Loyola Academy students an opportunity to explore law as a potential career and to observe law students of color as role models and mentors.
SIU Law School Dean Peter C. Alexander said that programs like this are an important step in ensuring that more students from underrepresented communities enter the legal profession.
“The reality for legal education is that it can no longer look to college juniors and seniors as the primary source for students of color,” he said. “Pipeline initiatives, such as the SIU School of Law’s involvement with the Loyola Academy, are vital if student bodies are to reflect the greater society. Schools have to think creatively in order to help students of color realize that law school can be a reality for them, and the efforts have to begin at a very early age.”
Members of the Black Law Student Association began the day’s activities by asking the Loyola students if they had thought about what careers they wanted to pursue. One or two hands went up when the students were asked if they had any interest in a law career. The law students then showed a “Choose Law” video created by the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division and quizzed the eighth graders afterward about what they learned.
“Lawyers played an important role in drafting our Constitution,” recalled one of the eighth graders. “Diversity is important to the legal profession,” added another.
The video also highlights how lawyers can help their communities and the various ways in which lawyers can use their law degrees – from the courtroom to the corporate boardroom. The law students used the video as a springboard to talk about their career goals and how they had prepared themselves for college and law school.
After lunch, students from Dean Alexander’s trial advocacy class presented a mock prosecution of Goldilocks on charges of for breaking and entering and destruction of property. The Loyola Academy students served as jurors and engaged in a spirited deliberation before finding Goldilocks guilty.
Dean Alexander then asked the eighth-graders to raise their hands if they could see themselves in the role of an attorney in the future. This time, more than half of the hands went up.
“Our trip was truly inspirational for the students and me,” said Garrett, who is director of graduate support for the Loyola Academy.
The law students were equally impressed by the intellectual curiosity and drive exhibited by the junior high school students as a result of the rigorous education they have been receiving at the academy. In talking with Garrett and Leonard afterward, one of the law students commented that “your guys ask much better questions than most groups we talk to. Where is your school again?”
Second year law student Danielle Johnson, who played the role of Goldilocks, said she “enjoyed seeing these young men’s minds at work” when they voted to convict her. “These young men are from the inner-city where they have many decisions on whether to continue with school or succumb to the life that they see every day in their neighborhoods,” she said. “I am hopeful that through this visit they will choose the light that leads them to law.”
The law students also expressed gratitude for the opportunity to give something back in exchange for the mentoring they have received over the years.
“To get where I am, I have relied on the guidance and counsel of countless people,” said Gino Betts Jr., a second-year law student. “I am in debt to all those who have shared their experiences with me, and the only way for me to square my debt is to give back to those coming behind me. I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to offer my time and perspective to the young men of Loyola Academy.”
Second-year law student Gina Golliday similarly remarked: “Encouraging and meeting with the students of Loyal Academy made me realize the importance of helping our youth understand the significance of obtaining a solid educational foundation to exceed in higher learning. Their enthusiasm in learning about my life as a law student and their participation in the mock trial revealed that it is never too early to start thinking about a legal career. From this experience I found how essential it is to give back and to be a positive role model as a law student and later as an attorney.”
Third-year law student Amanda Joyce expressed gratitude for an opportunity to make a difference in the future of an upcoming generation.
“I grew up in a very repressed area in downtown Chicago, and by all standard means of society I should either be in prison or dead,” she said. “Being able to see a difference in anyone’s life is one of the main reasons I got into law.”
Before the day was over, Garrett and Dean Alexander were already making plans for a return visit next year, with hopes of expanding the group to include other middle schools and high schools with similar missions.