July 24, 2015—Members of the inaugural class of the University of Houston Law Center’s Pre-Law Pipeline Program heard strong words of encouragement and said their goodbyes last week as their six-week initiation to the world of law came to an end.
The program, an initiative of Dean Leonard M. Baynes, offers undergraduate students from minority or underrepresented backgrounds the chance to test the waters of law school to determine if a legal career is right for them. Baynes, who began at UHLC last fall, modeled the program after a similar one he initiated at St. John’s University School of Law in New York.
The students were exposed to two weeks of introductory law school courses taught by Law Center faculty and two weeks of LSAT preparation before interning for two weeks at local law firms, nonprofit organizations, and courts. They also received professional development training, attended legal research and writing classes, and were mentored by current UHLC law school students.
The inaugural class included 9 men and 12 women, ranging in age from 20 to 27, drawn from states across the country including Texas, New York, California, Alabama, Louisiana, Iowa, and Massachusetts. They gathered on July 10 for a closing reception in the Fulbright Conference Center in the Houston offices of Norton Rose Fulbright on the 48th floor of Fulbright Tower.
There, they were feted with a sumptuous dinner and received the hearty well-wishes of their instructors and others. Associate Professor Meredith Duncan, a primary faculty advisor for the program, congratulated the students on their whirlwind accomplishment.
“The six weeks just flew by,” said Duncan, who also taught torts to the class. “It has been a long road that all of us have traveled to get here. But it’s been all good.”
Baynes said that as a young man just beginning to consider law school, he had only the advice of friends and faculty members to guide him.
One of his long-held goals, he said, was to make sure that those who are smart and talented, but have limited resources and opportunities, are given the chance to succeed.
“The world is changing, Texas is changing. It’s becoming much more diverse. It’s really important focus to make sure there’s more inclusion in the profession,” he said. “It makes business sense. It’s the right thing to do.”
The keynote address was given by Norton Rose Fulbright partner Alaina King Benford, who noted that she is only the second (of three) African-American woman elected to partnership in the firm’s nearly century-old history.
“That tells you that the legal profession needs you. We need you,” she said. Benford cited a recent Washington Post story highlighting the fact that the legal profession is one of the least diverse.
“It’s not just about diversity for diversity’s sake. There is a business case for inclusion and diversity,” Benford said. She told the students that one day they might apply their unique perspectives to hiring decisions at major law firms and help solve their clients’ legal problems.
“The legal profession needs you, but we need you to be excellent,” she said. “You have to bring your ‘A game.’ You have to be excellent in everything you do.”