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Penn Law’s Outreach Program helps prepare diverse college students to apply to law school

March 11, 2019

For more than a decade, Penn Law’s Black Law Students Association (BLSA) has partnered with the Admissions Office to reach undergraduates in the Greater Philadelphia area through the Outreach Program, “Applying to and Succeeding in Law School.” The program focuses on students who are ethnically diverse, first-generation college attendees, or who have disadvantaged backgrounds, and aims to help them successfully complete their bachelor’s degrees, and apply to and enter law school.

Promoting a more diverse and inclusive legal profession is a priority for Penn Law. One key way to effectuate that goal is to ensure that information and resources regarding the law school admissions process is widely available. Founded by BLSA in 2007, each year the program has included prospective law school applicants from local colleges such as Temple, Swarthmore, Drexel, West Chester University and Penn. This year’s program includes 51 participants from 10 area colleges. In partnership with Penn Law’s expanding Inclusion and Engagement Initiatives, the Outreach Program is growing, with the goal of expanding participating undergraduate schools and increasing law student participation.  In these last two years, the program expanded its outreach to invite students from the Community College of Philadelphia and Bucks County Community College as well.

“Penn Law understands the critical importance of fostering an inclusive legal profession and is excited to support and expand its work to support this priority by increasing its commitment to supporting pipeline programs like this one,” said Arlene Rivera Finkelstein, Associate Dean and Executive Director of the Toll Public Interest Center (TPIC). Rivera Finkelstein also directs the law school’s Inclusion and Engagement initiatives.

Penn Law 2L Shannon Reid L’20 is the Alumni and Admissions Chair of BLSA, and in that role has taken on the responsibility of running the 2019 program and working to increase its scope.

“When it was founded, the program was originally structured around helping participants get a better understanding of the application process,” said Reid. “Since then, it has developed into a program with multiple parts where students can not only learn about the admissions process, but also think critically about why they want to go to law school, and what they should consider when deciding to attend.”

Over four sessions held on Saturdays throughout the spring semester, program participants come to Penn Law’s campus and meet with a range of students, professors, and staff to learn about the law school experience, how to prepare their applications, and what kinds of career opportunities they might pursue in varied legal practice areas. Participants are also paired with Penn Law students who act as mentors for the duration of the program.

Making mentorship a centerpiece of the program was one of the organizers’ goals.

“Reinvigorating the mentorship aspect was a major focus this year,” said Carla Anderson, Penn Law’s Director of Operations for Admissions and Financial Aid and Director for Access Initiatives.  

Rivera Finkelstein agreed: “We know that mentorship is a critical component of ensuring student success, so that is a high priority of the program.”

To bolster the mentorship component, Reid recruited 26 Penn Law students to serve as mentors, and emphasized that they should act as points of contact and informational resources for participants throughout the semester.

The 2019 iteration of the program began on February 16 with a program welcome that included a mock class taught by Regina Austin, William A. Schnader Professor of Law and Director of the Penn Program on Documentaries & the Law. The day also included tours of Penn Law’s campus and a lunch where mentors and mentees met face to face for the first time after corresponding via email.

“It kicked off very well,” Reid said. “The support from Admissions, TPIC, and law students who are serving as mentors has been instrumental to making it the success it’s been so far.”

The second session on February 23 focused on how to apply to law school, with an admissions workshop presented by Anderson and an LSAT strategy session presented by Hagana Kim, Penn Law’s Associate Director of Legal Education Programs.

The third and fourth sessions will take place in March and April, and will discuss career opportunities for JDs and also offer more insight into the law school experience, including a law student panel, a discussion on financing a legal education, and a writing workshop. At the program’s closing reception, participants will again be joined by their mentors.

This program is hosted annually, with some support from Discover Law at the Law School Admission Council. Anyone interested in more information regarding the program should contact Carla Anderson at contactadmissions@law.upenn.edu.