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Educators in Texas want to jump-start legal careers. The University of Texas at San Antonio is launching the Institute for Law and Public Affairs, a program designed to prepare students for graduate work. The program will include intensive classes in analytical thinking, written and spoken communication, legal research and other skills to help students get accepted to law school and to come out with a J.D. Partnering with UTSA is the University of Texas in Austin, which put an initial $20,000 into the program. In addition, faculty from the UT School of Law will help teach summer classes. UTSA Associate Professor Richard Gambitta, who will direct the institute, says the program will enhance students’ chances of becoming lawyers by reaching them while they’re still undergraduates. “We want to instill in them the importance of getting their GPA up, as well as give them special training in preparation for law school,” says Gambitta, who heads the UTSA political science and geography department. The institute will establish a summer pre-law academy and integrate classes into the university schedule the rest of the year. Officials are developing a certificate program to confirm that a student has completed the pre-law classes and has the skills to do well in law school. In addition to helping get students into law school, the institute will sponsor lectures and seminars on topics of interest to the public. The creation of the institute and the UT grant were announced in July; the official start date is Sept. 1. Educators are working on getting grants for scholarships and stipends, Gambitta says. In addition, they are soliciting summer academy applications. The summer academy will consist of two month-long sessions, with students attending class eight hours a day, five days a week. In June, students who are between their sophomore and junior years will take rigorous academic classes. In July, students who are between their junior and senior years will take classes, plus an intensive course to prepare them for the Law School Admissions Test. In addition, these students will hone their writing skills to help them with law school applications. The first summer academy will be conducted next summer, with about 20 students in each group. The short-term impact of the institute should be more students from South Texas going to law school. The long-term impact could be more minority law students and, eventually, more lawyers of color in Texas, Gambitta says. About half of the UTSA student body is Latino or African-American, he says, and those demographics probably will be reflected in the institute’s enrollment. Currently, about 10 percent of lawyers in Texas are minorities, compared to more than 40 percent of the general population in the state. The San Antonio institute is modeled after a program at the University of Texas at El Paso that was started in 1998. That program, which was developed jointly by UTEP and the law school, also introduces students to legal concepts and helps them develop the skills to get into law school. Texas Tech, Southern Methodist University and Baylor law schools also have helped with the El Paso program. UTEP Professor Robert Webking, a co-director of his school’s program, says that 37 students participated in this year’s sessions and are getting ready to take the LSAT in October. About 80 percent of participants are minorities, a reflection of the makeup of the overall student body.

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