Pipeline--College Prelaw Summer Institute proves successful for fourth year

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By Debra Talcott

Legal News

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

Students were welcomed to the campus by Associate Dean John Nussbaumer and Professor E. Christopher Johnson, both of whom are dedicated to expanding legal education opportunities for students of color, low-income students, and otherwise disadvantaged students.

"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 prospective future members of the legal profession that helps them through a critical thinking and reasoning course and LSAT preparation classes. It is typical that students raise their LSAT scores earned on the first day by 5 points when they retake the exam on the last day of the program.

"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 leave the program with a realistic "taste" of the rigors of law school. They 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; the Oakland County Bar Association's Diversity Committee; the Federal Bar Association; and the 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 Professor 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 as a whole. This is my second year teaching in the CLEO program, and I feel honored to be a part of it."

Three of this year's participants include Catrice Evans, a senior at University of Detroit Mercy; Ebony Jalissa Ivie, a recent graduate of Oakland University; and Scott McCallister, who recently graduated from Oakland and is beginning his graduate studies there. These students, like the rest of the 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, the highlight of the program was the inspiration she received from her interactions with accomplished attorneys and judges at the Trailblazers Dinner event 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 at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. Mingling and dining with accomplished attorneys and judges was inspirational, and I was honored to be present."

"I began my collegiate journey with law school as my last stop, and I have not wavered. I have been enrolled full time every semester since January 2010. During my first semester I found out I was pregnant with my second child, but I had already made the decision to pursue my degree, so I could not stop. For me, obtaining a degree is the only way that I could change my lifestyle. It was hard; however, I kept going even while dealing with severe financial hardship," says Evans.

For Ebony Ivie, the CPSI experience cemented her desire to practice law.

"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 Association. I believe that I have received a head start in making vital connections and networks with people who already work in the field," says Ivie.

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

McCallister says he enjoyed learning the differences between civil and criminal law and learning to analyze arguments for flaws and fallacies.

"I also learned just how much information lawyers need to juggle and organize in order to be successful."

Major funding for the College Summer Prelaw Institute comes from the Cooley Deans' Annual Fund and Oakland University. Nussbaumer said a special thanks to the sponsors for this year's program: Miller Canfield; Warner Norcross & Judd; Jaffe, Raitt, Heurer and Weiss; Collins, Einhorn, Farrell and Ulanoff; Dickinson Wright; Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn; Clark Hill; the State Bar of Michigan Young Lawyers, Appellate Practice and Health Law Section; the State Bar of Michigan Law Practice Management and Legal Administrators; Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association; and the Oakland County Bar Association.

Published: Thu, Jun 27, 2013