Pipeline program: School continues annual Prelaw Summer Institute

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 By Debra Talcott

Legal News
 
Since 2010, Cooley Law School has designated the month of June as a time to host the College Prelaw Summer Institute at its Auburn Hills campus. Cooley conducts this successful pipeline program in partnership with Oakland University, the ABA Council on Legal Education (CLEO), and Kaplan Test Prep Services. 
 
Founded in 1968 as a nonprofit project of the American Bar Association, the CLEO program helps minority, low-income, and otherwise disadvantaged college sophomores and juniors gain a glimpse of the rigors law school will entail. The Summer Institute provides 100 hours of intensive academic work that includes instruction in logic, critical reasoning, torts, legal writing, and trial advocacy, as well as a free LSAT preparation course from Kaplan.
 
Students selected to participate attend the Summer Institute free of charge. They also receive stipends of $750 to compensate for lost income during that time. Nearly 60 college students from around the country have been served in the three years Cooley has offered the Summer Institute.
 
Generous financial support from area firms and associations are what make the program possible. This year’s sponsors include the Association of Corporate Counsel of Michigan; Collins, Einhorn, Farrell, & Ulanoff; Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association; Honigman; Jaffe Raitt Heuer &Weiss; Miller Canfield; Oakland County Bar Asssociation; Plunkett Clooney; the State Bar of Michigan Health Law, Law Practice Management, and Young Lawyers Sections; and Warner, Norcross, & Judd.
 
For Jesus Chavarin-Rivas, a junior at the University of California at Berkeley, and Ferris State University graduate Willie Wallace, the CLEO program was the opportunity of a lifetime.
 
“My fellow students in the program welcomed me to Michigan with open arms, and I can honestly say I have made lifelong friends,” says Chavarin-Rivas. “Being able to take classes such as Torts, Legal Writing, Critical Reasoning, and Mock Trial was extremely beneficial because I now have the basic foundation of how law school classes are run. This exposure, I believe, is going to help me greatly in the future.”
 
Chavarin-Rivas says he was selected to participate in the Summer Institute because of his motivation and his life experiences.
 
“I grew up in a low socio-economic community with not a lot of resources,” he says. “My parents do not speak English, and I’ve always had to play the underdog role. Nevertheless, being in this position motivated me to succeed both in and out of the classroom.”
 
It is through his own hard work as well as support from family members and university leaders who believe in him that Chavarin-Rivas attends U.C. Berkeley on a full scholarship.
 
“The best part of being a student at Berkeley is having the opportunity to meet motivated individuals that come from an array of different cultures and ethnicities,” says Chavarin-Rivas. “You are able to bounce ideas off each other and make yourself and others that much better.” 
 
Chavarin-Rivas says his interest in a career in the law stems from his personal experience with an immigration attorney as a 9-year-old boy.
 
“I came to realize at an early age that lawyers are there to protect, defend, and serve the people. I saw this firsthand when my brother and I accompanied our father to his immigration hearing in San Francisco. A well-dressed man greeted us at the courthouse entrance.  I did not know who he was or why my father was talking to him. My brother explained, ‘He is a man who is trying to protect our father from getting taken away from us and sent to another country.’”
 
When the young Chavarin-Rivas started to sob, the immigration attorney responded by going to him, getting down on one knee, looking him in the eye, and explaining that he would do his best to prevent his father’s deportation.
 
“His understanding about what I was going through amazed me and is one of the main reasons I want to pursue a career in the law. Throughout the whole process, I felt this attorney was our family’s protector.  His commitment to our family made me realize the benefits and self-satisfaction one gets from such a career.”
 
Born and raised in Salinas, Calif.—something he shares with author John Steinbeck—Chavarin-Rivas says participating in the College Prelaw Summer Institute was “life changing.”
 
“Not only does the CLEO program provide students with the resources to continue their journey to law school, but it also provides an amazing cast of people who are there to assist you. Overall, it has given me the extra motivation to push harder, and it affirmed for me that law school is where I need to be and that it is, in fact, possible.”
 
Fellow CLEO participant Willie Wallace learned about the College Prelaw Summer Institute while attending a Cooley open house event in the spring.
 
“I applied, submitted my transcripts, and wrote an essay on equal justice in order to get in,” says Wallace. “I was excited to be a part of the program because every day offered a welcomed challenge.   Everyone put a lot of effort into the program—from the orientation on the first day to the mock trial on the last—and that’s what made it so enjoyable.”
 
Wallace, who was raised in Flint and currently works full time for General Motors, says he will be spending the rest of his summer preparing to take the LSAT exam.
 
“I really want to do well on the test, and I want to become a lawyer because it is a profession that will allow me to make a positive difference,” says Wallace, who takes pride in setting an example for others who may experience impediments to completing their education.
 
“When I first entered college, I took a placement test and didn’t do very well on it. The person that proctored the test told me that I probably wouldn’t do well in college and would be wasting my time. So I always remembered those words and used them as inspiration to do my best while I pursue my education,” says Wallace. 
 
The work ethic and tenacity of students like Wallace and Chavarin-Rivas are qualities that lead teaching assistant Shannon King admires in program participants. A participant in the Summer Institute in 2011, King started law school at Cooley last fall. She enjoyed working this summer with students whose personal stories and backgrounds are diverse but who have all been drawn to the legal profession to help others.
 
“For instance, Willie Wallace is considering law as a second career because he wants to make his contribution to his community.  And when Jesus Chavarin-Rivas was a young child, an immigration attorney made a lasting impression on him by helping Jesus’s father become a United States citizen.”
 
 Another student King will always remember is Ivette Delgado Price.
 
“Before her father passed away, he expressed his dream of her becoming a judge. She told me that he would have been so proud to see her participating in Cooley’s Prelaw Summer Institute. It is a rigorous program where students are given a realistic law school experience. Upon completion, they leave with a good idea of whether or not they can handle the demands and level of commitment that law school will require.”
 
King says another star of this year’s program was University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student Julio Bryand.
 
“Julio became interested in a legal profession, in part, after representing himself in small claims court rather than hiring an attorney who would have charged him more than his recovery,” King says.  “At the closing ceremony for this year’s program, he was presented with the award for best courtroom advocate in the mock trial competition as well as the certificate of merit for the torts exam. He gave credit for earning the highest score on the exam to the review sessions I conducted using the ‘issue, rule, analysis, conclusion’ (IRAC) method.”
 
The summer program is where King says she herself realized the full impact of the legal profession on society.  
 
“Lawyers have the ability to represent those who would not ordinarily have the power or ability to help themselves. This realization was solidified for me when I spent five weeks this summer interning at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in the child abuse unit. It was fulfilling to be able to contribute to child victims’ vindication and justice. My interest in criminal law-particularly in the prosecutor’s office-stems, in part, from my being a victim of a crime and having the perpetrator go unpunished,” explains King.
 
Now a single mother, King says her 12-year-old son is the reason for every decision she makes in hopes of improving their lives.
 
“We moved from the Downriver area to Rochester Hills in the past year so I could be closer to Cooley’s Auburn Hills campus. My son will enter eighth grade in the fall, and he has adjusted very well to the move and to our new life.”
 
Opportunity for a better future is what the CLEO summer program and other pipeline programs offer to the next generation. John Nussbaumer, dean of the Auburn Hills campus, sees such programs as the best hope for opening the door to law school or other professional careers for students whose backgrounds do not provide the modeling or encouragement to do so. 
 
“These students worked extremely hard in the program and, as a result of their efforts, are now one step closer to their goal of securing admission to law school,” Nussbaumer says. “We appreciate their efforts and will continue to support them in the coming year, regardless of where they choose to apply. I’d like to personally thank our partners and sponsors, without whom this program simply would not be possible. We look forward to offering the program again next year.
 
“I also want to say a special thanks to Cooley’s faculty and staff, who really make this program happen, especially Campus Director Audra Foster, Enrollment and Student Services Coordinator Val Schnable, and Professors Tammy Asher, Heather Dunbar, Lew Langham, and Monica Nuckolls,” Nussbaumer says. “We literally could not run this program without them.”