Month-long program opens the doors to law school for students of color

Participants from last year's program: Habiba Mohamed, Danhui Dong, and Daily Guerrero

Published January 17, 2013

Promising undergraduate students are being sought for a SUNY Buffalo Law School summer program that offers a real-world sampling of a lawyer's work and the rigors of law school.

The program, from June 1 to 28, is designed to make law school more accessible to students of color, who historically have been underrepresented in the legal profession. Twenty students will take four rigorous courses taught by SUNY Buffalo Law professors, attend field trips to see the law in action, learn about the admissions process, and shadow a judge or attorney for a day. Students live on the University at Buffalo's North Campus for the month, and earn a $900 stipend to offset income lost during the month.

The program is a joint venture of the Law School, the Minority Bar Association of Western New York and the Law School Admissions Council. It builds on a successful initial program that took place at the Law School last summer.

Says Lillie Wiley-Upshaw, SUNY Buffalo Law's vice dean for admissions and one of the leaders of the program: "We really were very pleased with last year's program, based on evaluations we received from the students and faculty members who took part. We want to add a few more social components, and do more to show off Buffalo to our students from out of town. We also have added an opportunity to shadow an attorney or judge for a day. But we'll retain the basic structure of the program."

That structure includes intensive seminars on the law school admissions process and skill development for the LSAT; tours of correctional facilities and courthouses; and an ethnographic research project, in which the students interviewed people of various ethnicities about their views of the law, and explored their own experience and identity through journaling.

Faculty participants will include Professor James A. Wooten, teaching Introduction to Law; Professor Teresa A. Miller, teaching Introduction to Criminal Procedure; Professor Charles P. Ewing, teaching Evidence and Trial Practice; Professor David M. Engel, teaching Tort Law, and Law in Culture and Society; and lecturers Bernadette Gargano and Johanna Oreskovic '97, teaching legal research and writing.

The goal, Wiley-Upshaw says, is to help the students make an informed decision about whether law school and a legal career are right for them, and to give them some of the skills they'll need to be successful. Interviews with some students in the 2012 program find that the experience left a lasting impression.

"The program really solidified my interest in the field of law," says Daily Guerrero, a native of the Dominican Republic who is currently a junior at Harvard University. "I often thought about what it meant to be a lawyer, but through the program I got to see and experience what it was like to be a lawyer. That immersive experience was great."

Says Ninteretse Jean Pierre, a native of the African nation of Burundi who is now a U.S. citizen and a senior at Buffalo State College: "The workload was ridiculous   so much work, it was almost undoable. But we got through it. … It's a reality   to make the decision about law school, you need to know the amount of work that's going to be involved. I don't think it's going to be a surprise now when I get to law school."

And Habiba Mohamed, a native of Kenya who is a sophomore at D'Youville College in Buffalo, says the Discover Law program helped her decide on an undergraduate major   sociology. "It gave me a little perspective," she says. "If it wasn't for the Law School program I don't think I would have declared a major so soon. … I really enjoyed it. I wish everyone could have this kind of experience."

Applicants must be students of color who have completed their freshman or sophomore year in college and/or be first-generation college students. Preference is given to students from western and central New York, northeastern Pennsylvania and eastern New York. The application deadline is Feb. 28.

The program application is on the Law School's website; click on "UB Undergraduate Scholars Program" on the right-hand side of the home page. Questions can be directed to the Law School Office of Admissions, 716-645-2907 or law-admissions@buffalo.edu.