College Prelaw Summer Institute proves successful in fourth year

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Cooley Law School staff and faculty and members of the State Bar of Michigan Young Lawyers Section along with participants in the Prelaw Summer Institute.

PHOTO COURTESY OF COOLEY LAW SCHOOL

by Debra Talcott
Legal News

For the fourth consecutive year, Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hils campus hosted the popular College Prelaw Summer Institute (CPSI) for prospective members of the legal profession. Cooley partners with Oakland University and the American Bar Association (ABA) Council of Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO) to offer the pipeline program. This year, 19 participants—from 13 colleges and universities in five states as well as the country of Lebanon—came together in May to begin honing skills necessary for success on the LSAT and in law school.

Associate Dean John Nussbaumer and Professor E. Christopher Johnson welcomed students. Both are dedicated to expanding legal education opportunities for students of color, low-income students, and otherwise disadvantaged. “It is our hope that this program will help increase the applicant pipeline to law school and grow diversity in the legal profession to better reflect the clients being served,” says Nussbaumer.

Professor Johnson calls the 20-day program a “boot camp” for future attorneys that helps them through a critical thinking and reasoning course and LSAT preparation classes. Typically,  students raise the LSAT scores earned on the first day by 5 points when they retake the exam on the last day.

“The CLEO Prelaw Summer Institute is an excellent example of the pipeline to law school in action,” says Johnson. “I know it has made a difference in the lives of the scores of college students who have gone through the program. The end result is an enlightened group of students, some of whom are now pursuing, or thinking of pursuing, careers in the law.”

Students also learn about the legal profession through lunch-and-learn sessions with lawyers and judges from diverse backgrounds. The State Bar of Michigan Young Lawyers Section; Oakland County Bar Association’s Diversity Committee; Federal Bar Association; and Oakland County Bar Association sponsor these informative luncheons.  Students are also invited to attend the Mentor Jet Program sponsored by the National Association of Women Judges and the Oakland County Region of the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan.

Students received 100 hours of free instruction from Cooley Professors Heather Dunbar, Monica Nuckolls, Tammy Asher, Lewis Langham, and Martha Moore. LSAT preparation is provided by Test Prep Services. 

“The CLEO program is another example of Cooley’s continuous efforts to improve access to legal education,” says Nuckolls. “Students are given an opportunity to participate in real law classes, including torts and legal writing. They also have a chance to network with lawyers and judges in the community and learn more about what it is like to practice law.  It truly is an invaluable experience, and the students leave the program not only with more knowledge about how the law works, but a greater appreciation and respect for the entire judicial system. This is my second year teaching in the CLEO program, and I feel honored to be a part of it.”

Participants earned the equivalent of two college credits in critical thinking and reasoning. They also received stipends of $750 to compensate their opportunity costs of being in the program instead of the summer workforce.

For Catrice Evans, one of this year’s participants, the highlight was interaction with accomplished attorneys and judges at the Trailblazers Dinner organized by the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association. “I was fortunate to have the opportunity, through Dean Nussbaumer, to attend the 20th Annual Trailblazers Dinner... Mingling and dining with accomplished attorneys and judges was inspirational, and I was honored to be present.”

As someone who enjoys the learning process and tries to expand her world through new ways of thinking, Evans was a perfect fit for CPSI.

“My older sister calls me ‘Inspector Gadget’ because I am always investigating and researching all types of things,” says Evans. “It’s a family joke; I love getting to the bottom of things. Then there’s the part of me that has always tried to help people fight for themselves. I’m always giving advice from my logical point of view.”

Born and raised in Detroit, Evans has not always accomplished her goals the easy way. She dropped out of high school her sophomore year due to bad grades, poor attendance, and “ignorance,” as she puts it. Later she earned her G.E.D. “When I made the decision to enroll in college,” she says, “I knew that I had to take that opportunity to pursue my childhood dream.  I had always wanted to practice law; unfortunately, as I grew into a teenager and young lady, the dream got lost. Now that I have children of my own,... I want to be a positive role model for them.”

Evans plans to use the motivation she received from CPSI to pursue her law degree at Cooley.

For Ebony Ivie, the CPSI experience cemented her legal aspirations.

“By far my favorite experience has been my mock trial class. We had the chance to talk to a mock jury as if we were already real attorneys and litigators. It felt like home. My second favorite experience was meeting with the Oakland County Bar. I believe I’ve received a head start in making vital connections...with people who already work in the field,” says Ivie.

She will spend the rest of her summer working as a case manager for families while preparing to take the LSAT in early 2014. She will approach law school the same way she approached her undergraduate studies:  as a leader involved in programs and organizations that allow her to work with people from diverse backgrounds.

“When I was a student at Oakland University, I served as a supplemental instructor and tutor for psychology.  I also served as the event coordinator for an organization called RED COW, which stands for Revive, Experience, and Dream.  Change Our World.  This organization focuses on social and community issues, such as HIV awareness and cancer...”

Like fellow CPSI participant Evans, Ivie has family members who see her as having the “right stuff” for success. “My mom always told me that I had great logic and that I could debate about anything and lead others to see my viewpoint.” Ivie says. “She always thought that I would make a great lawyer because I have been intrigued by the law and why laws work the way they do.  Of course, watching Law and Order inspired me a bit too.”

Participant Scott McCallister says his son is the one who inspired him to finish his undergraduate degree and seek out a place in the CPSI program .

“I cannot stress enough the tremendously helpful perspective the program offers to anyone considering law school. It is a diverse program with students from unique backgrounds, and the material is an informative and fascinating glimpse of how to approach the LSAT and law school classes.”

McCallister says he enjoyed learning the differences between civil and criminal law and how to analyze arguments for flaws and fallacies. “I also learned just how much information lawyers need to juggle and organize.”

McCallister takes pride in challenging himself to look at the world through new perspectives and in learning something new from everyone he meets.

“I would like to become a lawyer to make a positive difference in people’s lives,” says McCallister.  “It would be a great honor and responsibility to interpret and apply the law.”

“In all respects, this is among the premier pipeline programs in the country from my perspective as a former member and chair of the ABA’s Pipeline Council, which is the ABA’s think tank for pipeline programs,” says Professor Johnson. “It is also one of the reasons I am proud to be a member of the faculty at Cooley Law School. My thanks go to ...  all who have graciously given of their time and
talents.”