The energy was positive and the spirits were high as 19 undergraduate students worked, socialized and pondered their way through the Discover Law Program held this summer in O'Brian Hall.
The scholars, about half of them UB students and half attending colleges and universities elsewhere, were on campus June 5 to July 1 to experience law school and begin to imagine themselves as legal professionals. It was the ninth season of Discover Law, the law school’s signature program that aims to encourage young people from historically underrepresented communities to consider the law as a career.
After the 2021 program had to be conducted virtually, this year’s cohort of scholars were eager for the in-person experience.
The law school is proud to co-host Buffalo’s first legal diversity career fair with our friends at the Bar Association of Erie County and the Minority Bar Association of Western New York. [Learn More]
“This year was one of our best,” says Amber Melvin ’13, who directs the Discover Law program and serves as the law school’s associate director of diversity, equity and inclusion. “All of the students came extremely ready. They were motivated and eager. Everyone who taught them or spoke with them was just so impressed with this group. They were on top of it, and that’s how it was from day one all the way through.”
Students in the program receive a stipend and spend four weeks on campus, living in Greiner Hall, one of the newest residence halls on the North Campus, and studying in O’Brian Hall. They also venture into the community for law firm and court visits. (As a UB Law student, Melvin served as a resident assistant for the very first cohort of Discover Law students in 2012.) It’s a rigorous program, with the scholars learning about the LSAT and law school admissions and financial aid, building connections with visiting practitioners, and experiencing classes with UB Law professors, including Professors Michael Boucai and Luis Chiesa and Clinical Professors Judith Olin '85 and Alexandra Harrington.
“It’s pretty good insight into the world of the legal profession,” Melvin says, adding that the goal is not necessarily to persuade the scholars to choose UB Law. “It does help us that they spend time on our campus, see our facilities, and hear from UB Law faculty. So, I think a natural benefit is that UB may be on their radar,” she says. “We hope that they’ll apply. But not all of our scholars go on to law school, and that’s definitely OK.”
In addition to their professional networking, the scholars—rising sophomores, juniors and seniors—leave with deep connections to each other, Melvin says. “One of the intangibles of this program that you can’t quantify is the relationships that they develop with one other,” she says. “All of them have similar aspirations and ambitions, and they see there are other people like them who support them and encourage them. They want each other to succeed, and that’s incredibly powerful. They all stay in touch.”
Scholar Alexander Ruiz, who enters his junior year at SUNY Geneseo this fall, says Discover Law has helped clarify his route to becoming a lawyer. “I’ve wanted to pursue a legal career since a young age,” he says. “I had my aspirations and my ideas, but I just didn’t know how. The program showed me how to get there: how long I should be studying, what I should be studying, how to tackle financial aid and the application process.”
Ruiz, a New York City native, is interested in education law, litigating on behalf of students and teachers whose rights are being jeopardized. A conversation with a UB Law professor opened his eyes to the school’s dual-degree program in law and education—an ideal fit for his aspirations. “I’m 100 percent applying to UB,” he says. “I’m grateful that I got to discover UB itself. It was a great selling point that I was there for four weeks.”
His fellow scholar Ariel Clarke, also a fellow New Yorker and a senior at UB, says she came to Discover Law “to figure out what law school is all about. This is something that will change your life for better or for worse, but Discover Law was a determining factor for my future career aspirations. The program felt so natural to me—it was tough, but I now feel like I can do this, I can be in a law school environment.”
And, she says, “While in this program, I learned the phrase ‘changemaker lawyer,’ someone within the legal system who’s trying to push the system to progress towards change and not always adhere to tradition. This phrase has further instilled in me that there is no such thing as a conventional lawyer, and any path I take in law is my own. I don’t know if there's one type of law I would like to practice, but I really want to advocate for people and make the legal system as equitable as possible for all.”
Generous funding from our supporters allows scholars to participate in this life-changing, career-building program for free. Read more on how to support this program.