July 14, 2016 – University of Houston officials and pillars of the local legal community recently gave words of encouragement to students enrolled in the University of Houston Law Center's Pre-law Pipeline Program.
More than 19 students from across the country are participating in the rigorous eight-week, summer course. Now in its second year, the program is designed to give students a sense of what law school is like to see if it is the right fit for them.
"The invaluable advice that the students gain from the program's guest speakers and panelists, most who are attorneys, provides a renewed sense of focus, and a leg up on their preparation for law school and a career in law," program manager Kristen Guiseppi said.
Over the course of a few days, students heard from leaders in academia including Paula Mendoza, a member of the University of Houston System Board of Regents, and president and CEO of Possible Missions, Inc., Paula Myrick Short, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Houston, and Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes.
Mendoza discussed the importance of higher education, and urged the students to seek support through a trusted adviser.
"If you don't have a mentor -- get one," Mendoza said. "Sometimes it can be an older brother, an aunt, it can be a teacher from high school or elementary school, someone you've kept in touch with. Somebody to bounce off ideas. "
She also told students to never doubt themselves, and to follow through on their interest in a legal education.
"It's so important to follow your dreams," Mendoza said. "If your passion is in law, then do it. If it's really in your heart, then make it happen."
Short heard students deliver emotional testimonies on what led them to the Law Center's pipeline program, and motivated them to use their time in school as the foundation for a career.
"It's all a journey," Short said. "As you are already doing, seek your passion. What are you interested in? What statement do you want to make about where you put your time and energy in? Not only for your career, but your personal life and social life."
Baynes offered some advice on test taking, while noting that the students hold the future in their hands.
"Success on a standardized test like the LSAT depends on accuracy and speed," he said. "To do well, you need to master the test and know which types of questions you do well on and those that you don't. The test does not have all the questions that you are good on in straight succession; those questions are scattered throughout the test. You have to answer quickly, not second guess and move on."
Elizabeth Campbell, partner and chief diversity officer for Andrews Kurth, assured students during a career panel that it is OK to ask questions, and told them to not be intimidated by seeking clarification.
"If you're going to your first law school class, everybody is going to their first law school class," she said. "Hold your head up high. Have that notepad, take those notes, do your homework. Other students know every bit as much as you do and no more."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruben Perez urged the prospective attorneys to show sincerity in their work.
"If you aren't genuine, people are going to pick up on it," said Perez, who leads the Human Trafficking/Civil Rights Unit and is also deputy coordinator of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance for the Southern District of Texas. "You have to be yourself. When you interview victims, and witnesses and so forth and you're not yourself, I promise they will pick up on it."
Tiffany Tucker, associate director of the Law Center's Career Development Office, warned of the competitive nature of law school. She advised students to avoid having a dog-eat-dog mentality with fellow classmates.
"Each class at each law school has a certain personality," Tucker said. "One class can be lovely and friendly, and the next class can be cutthroat. But that's just people period. What matters the most is that you go in with a particular mindset, and you present yourself in a way that stays above the fray where there is fray."
Linda Good '94, directing attorney at Lone Star Legal Aid and a trustee of the Lone Star College system, reminded students that the power to become a lawyer is in their hands.
"Life isn't something that happens to you," Good said. "It's something you do. You have to ask yourself, 'What do I want to do when I get to the end?' Do you want to be saying, 'I should have, would have, could have?' No. This is your time. Create the life you want to live."
Marilyn Moore-Basso '95, vice president and general counsel at TPC Group in Houston, told students that the analytical, problem-solving skills gained in law school can lead to a number of career paths.
"I have a lot of friends who are lawyers who never even practiced law," she said. "They went on to do other things. I have a lot of mentors who are lawyers and went on to be CEOs. It's just a really great education – looking for what the issue is and creative ways to solve it is going to serve you well in any career and in life."
The students participating in the Scholars 1 component of the Program will be entering the third phase of the program, where they are placed in internships at local law firms and organizations.