Will a week of law classes, mock trials and law-themed field trips inspire high school students to pursue legal careers?
The Hispanic National Bar Association’s Legal Education Fund hopes so. For the first time, the organization is sending a group of 22 Hispanic high school students from around the country to Los Angeles for a weeklong crash course in the law.
Participants in the Legal Education Action Program (LEAP) will take law classes taught by faculty from Pepperdine University School of Law and Southwestern Law School and will rub elbows with law students, practitioners and judges. The program kicks off on Sunday.
“LEAP was developed to ensure Hispanic youth of diverse backgrounds obtain the skills and tools necessary to achieve academic success, realize their potential and become tomorrow's legal and business leaders,” said Omar Vargas, president of the fund.
Organizers hope LEAP also will help improve the overall diversity of the profession. Minorities account for 25 percent law students nationally, according to the American Bar Association, and Hispanics for fewer than 8 percent. Only 3.7 percent of lawyers in the United States are of Hispanic origin, according the 2010 census.
Diversity advocates for years have been trying to strengthen the so-called pipeline to law school by exposing undergraduates, high school students and even elementary students to the law through mock trial competitions, lawyers talks, court visits or support and preparation for the Law School Admission Test. Those programs often emphasize outreach to minority or low-income students who otherwise might not consider legal careers. LEAP is among the more intensive of those efforts.
The inaugural class of 22 LEAP participants was selected from more than 100 applicants, hailing from all over the country. Organizers looked at the applicants’ backgrounds and affinity for a legal career, Vargas said. Three-quarters are from low-income homes and two-thirds from single-parent families, he added.
“We want to inspire them to make the leap from high school to college, and get them to start planning for a law career early,” Vargas said. “If we plant the seed of these ideas early, they will keep that in mind as they move into college.”
The high schoolers will be housed at Pepperdine’s campus on the Malibu cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Organizers hope that atmosphere will inspire the students.
In addition to attending classes on the basics of the U.S. legal system, the students will observe an oral argument before U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and visit a federal trial courthouse. Organizers have lined up three law students to serve as onsite mentors. The week will culminate in a moot court competition.
Organizers plan to stay in touch with the LEAP participants as they graduate from high school and move into college, Vargas said. They hope to expand the size of the program and move it to different cities each summer. Nashville, Tenn., and Minneapolis are possibilities.
Ultimately, the fund would like to add a companion LEAP program for undergraduate students.