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New Akron Law program provides insight into profession

Legal News Reporter

Published: August 15, 2018

Macedonia resident Elijah Turner said he’s had his heart set on becoming an attorney since middle school, but he wasn’t sure what steps he needed to take to make his dream a reality.

But that all changed after he completed a brand new summer pipeline program at The University of Akron School of Law.

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) DiscoverLaw.org Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) program is designed to give rising college sophomores and juniors from diverse or underrepresented backgrounds an in-depth preview of what the law school experience is all about and the various career options open to those who receive their law degrees.

“The program solidified my plan to become a lawyer and showed me the path I need to take to get into law school,” said Turner, 19, a rising sophomore at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, who is majoring in social justice studies and minoring in political science.

“I am on a pre-law track,” said Turner. “I became interested in law after participating in the summer enrichment program REACH throughout middle school,” he said.

REACH, which is unrelated to the LSAC PLUS program at Akron Law, is designed to inspire and motivate African-American young men in the Greater Cleveland area to excel academically and become lifelong learners.

“During the REACH program I took law courses and got involved in mock trial and I have wanted to go to law school ever since,” said Turner.

The LSAC PLUS program at Akron Law is being funded by a three-year $300,000 installment grant from the Law School Admission Council.

On June 4, educators kicked off the first year of the summer immersion program with 20 college students from more than 10 states, including Ohio.

Akron Law Professor Brant Lee, who served as program director, said students got the chance to learn more about the LSAT, visited courtrooms, met with local lawyers and judges and attended law classes taught by faculty.

“The students all took Law School 101, which dealt with what to expect in law school, how to prepare for the LSAT and the application process,” said Lee, director of diversity and social justice initiatives at Akron Law.

Students also took legal writing and civil procedure, along with constitutional law, which was taught by Akron Law Dean Christopher J. Peters.

“I chose materials that focused on the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause,” said Peters. “We addressed slavery and segregation and the U.S. Supreme Court cases that defined the meaning of equality under the Constitution.

“The students were very interested in the material and were well prepared. They offered a variety of interesting perspectives on the issues.

“We tried to create as much synergy as possible between the courses,” said Peters. “For example, I worked with visiting assistant professor Jennifer Woloschyn, who taught legal writing to the group, to assign the students a law office-style memorandum addressing how Brown v. Board of Education changed the law regarding segregation.”

Lee said there was also an experiential learning element to the program.

“I taught a problem solving workshop and an Akron Law alumna taught a trial advocacy workshop,” Lee said. “There were evening and weekend activities for students as well.

“They visited the law school’s reentry clinic on site at a local church, where law students assisted residents in getting their driver’s licenses back. And we took some fun excursions too,” said Lee. “We went to Cedar Point and took a canoe trip.”

The program, which concluded on June 30, was free and included room and board.

“All students received a $1,000 stipend, intended to compensate for any summer employment they had to forgo in order to participate in the program,” said Peters.

“I think the program was very successful,” said Peters. “It did what it was designed to do: It stimulated an interest in law in some students who had not seriously considered law school and it better prepared all the students to gain admission to law school and succeed once they are enrolled.”

“There were a few students who were on the fence at the start of the program,” said Lee. “At least one of those students said the program helped them decide law school might not be for them, which is a perfectly good outcome from our perspective.

“Others left knowing law school was the right path for them.”

Massillon resident Savannah Hartman, who is working toward completing two associate degrees at Stark State College, said she wasn’t sure law school was a viable option when she began the LSAC PLUS program at Akron Law.

“I became interested in law when I took Introduction to Law and the Legal System at Stark State,” said Hartman, who will receive an associate’s degree in government and legal studies and another one in criminal justice in December 2019. “I did really well and my professor approached me and asked if I had considered law school. My professor told me about the program at Akron Law.

“Before I attended the program, I was not sure if I wanted to commit to so much schooling and I did not think I could afford law school either,” she said. “During the program I got a sample of the coursework and found out about the many scholarship opportunities, which could help me pay for law school.”

Hartman, 23, said she plans to complete her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at The University of Akron after she graduates from Stark State College.

“I plan to apply to Akron Law, Case Western Law and the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law,” said Hartman. 

Kent State University rising sophomore Tiera Moore, who is majoring in English and minoring in pre-law and political science, said the program gave her a clear picture of what to expect in law school, while providing insight into what it means to think like a lawyer.

“I had been considering a legal career ever since I took an AP government class during my senior year at Salem High School and shadowed Columbiana Common Pleas Court Judge Scott Washam,” said Moore, a volunteer at Community Legal Aid in Youngstown.

“I think the law provides the potential for fairness to both sides and I want to be a part of the process,” said Moore, 19, a resident of Salem, Ohio. “I was not sure law school was really doable until I attended the summer program at Akron Law.

“Now I realize anything is possible as long as I put my mind to it.”

Peters said the funding received would allow the program to continue for at least the next two summers.

“After the LSAC grant money runs out, I would like to see us continue to offer the program, perhaps in a somewhat scaled-down form,” said Peters. “We already have a generous $200,000 endowed gift from the Sally A. Miller and Joseph G. Miller Family Foundation that will help us continue the program.

“I think as long as we can get a $50,000 commitment each year we will be able to run a robust program, with many Akron Law faculty and staff and other volunteers donating their time,” Peters said. “I believe keeping the program going is extremely important because we need to increase diversity in the legal profession so that it better reflects the population as a whole.

“The pipeline program is a way for Akron Law to do its part toward that goal.”