Pipeline program concludes 5th year

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 By Debra Talcott

Legal News

As this year’s Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO) College Prelaw Summer Institute draws to a close, 19 participants return to their regular lives knowing they have just been a part of something very special. Since 2010, the pipeline program has been hosted by Cooley Law School in partnership with Oakland University and the American Bar Association Council on Legal Education.

Founded in 1968 as a nonprofit project of the ABA, the CLEO program gives minority college students or those from low-income or otherwise disadvantaged backgrounds a taste of law school and the intensive academic work it will require. The month-long institute provides 100 hours of intensive instruction in logic and critical reasoning, torts, legal writing, trial advocacy, and LSAT preparation.

Students were welcomed to Cooley’s Auburn Hills campus by Associate Dean John Nussbaumer and Professor E. Christopher Johnson, Jr., both of whom are known for their tireless work to expand legal education opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and for which both have received the State Bar of Michigan’s Champion of Justice Award.

“When I came to Cooley over 5 years ago hoping to help build a world-class pipeline program to the legal profession,” says Johnson, “I could never have imagined that we would conceive and execute the pipeline program now in place. I know this article is about our CLEO Prelaw Summer Institute, but this program is bookended by Cooley’s four-year collaboration with the Just the Beginning Foundation (JTBF) on the high school side and, of course, Cooley Law and a number of other law schools on the law school side. Our first graduates of the JTBF high school program are now finding their way to the CLEO program, and graduates of the CLEO program have not only been accepted by Cooley Law School but also by law schools at historically Black colleges and universities such as North Carolina Central University, Florida A&M, and Howard University—proof that this is a fully functioning pipeline program that is actually helping to increase the diversity of the legal profession.”

Students attended the CLEO program free of charge, and they received stipends of $750 to compensate them for lost income.  During their month-long training, students received free instruction from Cooley Professors Heather Dunbar, Monica Nuckolls, Tammy Asher, Lewis Langham, and Martha Moore. LSAT preparation was provided by Kaplan Test Prep Services.

Students also participated in lunch-and-learn sessions with lawyers and judges from diverse backgrounds.  These instructional sessions were sponsored by the State Bar of Michigan—Young Lawyers Section, the Oakland County Bar Association, the Hispanic Bar Association of Michigan, the Straker Bar Association, and the Wolverine Bar Association.

The program was made possible through the generous financial support of Cooley Law School; Oakland University; the State Bar of Michigan Law Practice Management, Appellate Practice, and Health Law Section; the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association; and six major law firms.  They include Warner, Norcross, & Judd; Miller Canfield; Collins, Einhorn, Farrell, & Ulanoff; Dickinson Wright; Honigman; and Jaffe Raitt.

“The best part of these programs for me is helping to push these young men and women to reach their full academic and intellectual potential,” says Nussbaumer. “Many people talk about the importance of diversifying the profession, but with the generous support of many different contributors, we are actually seeing it begin to happen.”

For Morehouse College senior Joshua Hiram Harris, participation in the CLEO program was an opportunity he will long remember. Harris says the program has helped him develop the skills necessary to be a competitive law school student and that it has shown him the importance of helping those around him improve their skills.

Harris says the most challenging part of being a college student is time management, and his schedule is busier than that of most of his peers. As the quarterback on the Morehouse football team, Harris spends 15-19 hours a week involved in his sport. At the same time, he maintains a 3.85 grade point average, participates in church functions, does community service, and tries to enjoy some social life.

“My trick has been to judiciously prioritize my days the night before. For example, as a volunteer at Maynard Jackson High School [near Atlanta-based Morehouse] this past semester, there were times where I had to extend my days well into the wee hours of the morning. This was necessary because my day would start early with volunteering at the high school, then I would attend classes, then I would attend team meetings and football practice. After practice, the day was not even half over for me, as I had to get my studying in before bed. Religion, academics, and football are all of the utmost importance to me, and I am a firm believer that community service is part of the Christian ethic and critical to my beliefs.  Therefore, time management is always a struggle,” says Harris. 

Harris is proud to have been born and raised in Detroit, the son of parents who valued education.

“I hail from the Palmer Woods area and attended both University of Detroit Jesuit and Detroit Country Day School for high school. Both of my parents are Fisk graduates, so I was raised in a household where education was of the utmost importance. My father, as a lawyer at Ford Motor Company, has inspired me to pursue a career in law. Since I was a little boy, the legal field has been presented to me as a stable career and one where, if a person works hard enough, the potential is limitless.”

Harris says his interest in the law was piqued at an early age and that this interest prompted many a discussion with his father.

“I had a particular interest in legal issues that arise at multinational corporations.  I can remember being a little kid and asking my dad if certain parts of television commercials were legally problematic.  The most recent example of this was when Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, wrote an open letter addressing issues with the Maps on the IPhone.  I read the letter multiple times and reached out to my father, who is VP of Legal Affairs for Ford of Europe, to ask whether Mr. Cook had put his company in a legally disadvantageous position.”

Like Harris, CLEO participant Katrina Cotton considers her summer experience invaluable.  

“The best part of the experience was meeting the 18 other students in the program. We’re from all over the U.S. and we are really different from one another, but we just connected from the first day and made a little Cooley family. The diversity in the class was really beneficial to me because we had some really honest opinions come out when we would talk about controversial cases or topics, and it was really useful to hear something more than just my own opinions. It was a judgment-free classroom, and that really helped me learn to look at the issues more objectively,” says Cotton.

When this Oakland University junior completes her undergraduate studies, she will have a degree in criminal justice with a minor in public relations. Cotton also will leave the university as a licensed drug and alcohol counselor.

Cotton says another highlight of her CLEO experience was the mock trial preparation.

“We had an amazing professor, Professor Langham, who made our experience fun and easy to remember. He always kept us laughing. The mock trial experience gave me a deeper look into how arguments need to be structured in the courtroom. I learned that the way I present my arguments is crucial because if I want the jury and/or judge to understand me from beginning to end, it’s my job to make my argument sound as clear as possible.”

Hard work is something Cotton knows about firsthand.  Cotton grew up in the Northern Michigan town of Oscoda until her senior year, when she transferred to Allen Park High School. She receives no financial assistance from her parents to attend college, so she relies on scholarships, loans, and her on-campus job.

“I work for Oakland University at Disability Support Services as a secretary and proctor, and that’s how I pay for books and any other miscellaneous school expenses.”

Cotton serves as an excellent role model for other students with big dreams.

“I have always wanted to be a lawyer, and this program just affirmed it. It really made me excited about how hard I currently work in my undergrad classes and about the opportunities that I will come across if I keep it up. When I want something, I work as hard as I have to until I get it, and that’s how I feel about going to law school and becoming an attorney. My passion is for the law and I can’t picture myself being anywhere else. I want to become a lawyer because I feel strongly about advocating for someone who doesn’t have a voice. To me being a lawyer is an honorable profession, despite how television can sometimes portray it.”

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