U.Va law school program courts first-generation college students

Graduates wait for the start of commencement exercises at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia
REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
  • The University of Virginia School of Law's new Roadmap Scholars Initiative takes aim at the law school pipeline
  • Administrators hope other top law schools will follow suit

(Reuters) - The University of Virginia School of Law is taking what it says is the most comprehensive approach yet to promoting a diverse pipeline of law students, launching a program to guide first-generation college students and those from low-income backgrounds through the law school admissions process.

Virginia Law's Roadmap Scholars Initiative will bring incoming college juniors to campus beginning this summer to take mini law classes and learn how to navigate the path to law school, the school said.

The program is launching with $200,000 in seed funding from alumni donors. There is no target number of participants for the program, which doesn't guarantee admission to the law school.

Administrators said the program is broader in scope than most existing law school diversity pipeline initiatives, which tend to focus on a single aspect of the admission process, such as college outreach or Law School Admission Test preparation. They said they hope it will become a model for its peer schools.

“If we all pitch in and put together programs like this, there will be more than enough students who otherwise might not have been able to get into a top law school, and we can all share them,” said Mark Jefferson, assistant dean for diversity, equity and belonging.

Recent data from the National Association for Law Placement found that nearly 23% of 2020 J.D. graduates were the first in their families to go to college, but that figure was 42% among Latino students; nearly 36% among Black students; and 55% among Native American and Alaska Natives. White J.D. graduates were most likely to have a lawyer parent, at nearly 18%.

Starting the summer after their sophomore year, participants will spend four weeks taking short courses at the Virginia Law campus. The school will pay for their travel, living expenses, and provide a $3,000 stipend. Participants will also be paired up with law student and alumni mentors.

The program will then fund an LSAT prep course, before bringing participants back to campus for two weeks the summer before their senior year for an “application bootcamp.” They will also complete a legal internship.

“First generation students have a set of intangibles that are really going to set them up for success in terms of resilience and emotional intelligence,” Jefferson said. “If you close the knowledge gap, they can figure the rest out.”

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