New law school diversity program has a twist: Guaranteed admission

REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Bootcamp program is aimed at minority and first-generation law students
  • Participants will spend a year prepping for the LSAT and law school, with the promise of admission and a scholarship

(Reuters) - Ten U.S. law schools have agreed to offer one-year deferred admission and scholarship money to promising, underrepresented candidates whose initial applications don't make the cut, according to AccessLex Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for access and affordability in legal education.

To keep their place at the participating schools, including Willamette University College of Law and the University of St. Thomas School of Law, applicants will have to complete a year-long program designed and administered by AccessLex to improve their Law School Admission Test scores and give them additional foundational skills and knowledge.

“We’re going to increase the chances of good outcomes for people who otherwise would not have gotten a law school opportunity,” said Aaron Taylor, the executive director of AccessLex’s Center for Legal Education Excellence.

AccessLex is funding the program with proceeds from its previous incarnation as an issuer of private student loans. The organization said it hopes to have 15 law schools signed up by the official launch next year. The schools will refer up to 10 applicants and offer them deferred admission and a scholarship of at least 20% of tuition provided they successfully complete their year of preparation.

Participants must have an LSAT score that is in the 25th percentile or lower. They must also be from a racial or ethnic group that is underrepresented in law schools; be the first in their family to go to college; or have received federal need-based Pell grants as undergraduates.

Law school deans who have agreed to take part, including Danielle Conway of Penn State Dickinson Law, said the program will help their schools increase opportunities for underrepresented groups.

"This partnership is squarely in line with our fundamental goal to create equity across everything we do," said Brian Gallini, dean of Willamette Law.

Those who complete the program will also receive a $3,000 stipend from AccessLex to help defer their law school costs.

Participants will complete an online Kaplan LSAT prep course and take the admissions test at least one time. They'll also take a series of online foundational law courses and receive both financial counseling and curriculum coaching.

The initial year-long program will require 8 to 12 hours of work per week, Taylor said, and sponsoring law schools may rescind their admissions offers if participants don’t meet their obligations.

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com