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High-profile lawyers share inspirational stories with students during UHLC Pre-Law Pipeline summer series

August 5, 2022 —The University of Houston Law Center's (UHLC) Pre-Law Pipeline Programs hosted a summer luncheon speaker series, which covered a range of topics including financial wellness, law school selection, diversity in the legal field, path to Big Law, admissions, and the versatility of a law degree.

UH Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes spoke about the importance of hosting these law and law school preparatory events, which the UHLC Pre-Law Pipeline Programs have been doing for seven years.

“When I was at your stage, I didn’t know what lawyers did, and I didn’t know any lawyers,” Baynes said. “The UHLC Pre-Law Pipeline Programs afford participating college students with a myriad of opportunities to interact with law school students, law school professors, and practicing lawyers.”

The Pre-Law Pipeline Programs are designed to increase the diversity of law school applicants by offering LSAT preparation, internships, and professional development sessions for diverse, first-generation, or low-income students.

As part of the series of seven, Baynes moderated two Dean’s Diversity Dialogue sessions. Panelists joining the June diversity session included Rene Casares, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at Academy Sports + Outdoors; Lola Lin (J.D. ’99), Executive Vice President, Chief Legal and Compliance Officer and Corporate Secretary at Howmet Aerospace; and Donovan Olliff (J.D. ’01), General Counsel at HOK.

Panelists participating in the Dean’s Diversity Dialogue July session were Vanessa Allen Sutherland, Executive Vice President of Legal and Government Affairs, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at Phillips 66; Jacqueline Del Villar (J.D. ’19), Associate at Fisher Phillips; and Regina A. Petty, Chief Diversity Officer and Partner at Fisher Phillips.

UH Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes moderates a Pre-Law Pipeline panel on diversity in the legal field with speakers Rene Casares, Lola Lin and Donovan Olliff.

UH Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes moderates a Pre-Law Pipeline panel on diversity in the legal field with speakers Rene Casares, Lola Lin and Donovan Olliff.

Paving a Path to Law School

Each panelist spoke about how they found their way to law school.

For Lin, it wasn’t immediately obvious why law felt like the right choice. “I think I was looking for a voice … that would allow me to advocate for myself, for my family, for social issues that I thought were important at the time,” Lin said.

Olliff picked UHLC because the part-time law degree program allowed him to work using his undergraduate architectural degree.

Casares discovered that his strengths lay in writing and persuasion rather than in financial analytics. He did a lot of research before deciding to go back to school. “I spent a lot of my time talking to attorneys to understand what I was getting myself into,” Casares said.

Sutherland, the youngest of four, was guided by her siblings to earn a law degree because they felt it could open a world of possibilities for her. “A law degree can allow you to teach, go into business, be a traditional lawyer, be a judge, a counselor, an advisor, a politician,” Sutherland said.

Del Villar, who first trained as a high school teacher, wanted a new challenge and picked a law degree.

At age 10 Petty met one of her mother’s classmates, famous lawyer and politician Barbara Jordan. After that her mind was made up that law was for her. “I didn’t know where I was going,” said Petty. “I figured that out in law school.”

Many of the panelists spoke to the value of having a career before law school to help ground you and prepare you for the work ahead.

Working Hard & Overcoming Barriers

UH Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes moderates a Pre-Law Pipeline panel on diversity in the legal field with speakers Rene Casares, Lola Lin and Donovan Olliff.

Panelists Vanessa Allen Sutherland, Jacqueline Del Villar and Regina A. Petty join UH Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes for a Pre-Law Pipeline discussion on pursuing the legal profession.

Dean Baynes pointed out how different each lawyer’s path was and reminded the students listening that there is no right or wrong way in pursuing a law degree. The most important part, he said, is wanting it enough to work hard for it.

Working hard was a common theme that the panelists shared.

“You get a huge reading assignment, and that was a muscle that needed to be built,” said Casares.

“It’s an endurance test,” Olliff shared.

Each of the panelists had their own set of barriers to overcome to achieve their path to success.

For Petty, it was being one of the first women of color in her class. “I went to law school in 1979 when diversity and equity was so low that it wasn’t statistically measurable,” Petty said.

For Lin and Del Villar, it was setting expectations for family, friends and partners about the time commitment required for law school.

In the case of Sutherland’s career, she was often the only female and woman of color in the room, and so she goes out of her way to ensure that’s not the case in every part of her life. “I consistently surround myself with people who look just like me. Black excellence, Latin excellence, Asian excellence is not an anomaly. It is just in too short supply,” Sutherland said. Orliff discussed how he broke barriers by being an LGBTQ+ practicing lawyer.

For more information on the UHLC Pre-Law Pipeline Programs, contact or 713-743-1398.

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