By Joanna Nakamoto • February 06, 2017•Writers in Residence
Pipeline programs for aspiring law students are some of the best resources in the world for disadvantaged students to get a feeling of what it’s like to work in the professional world or go through law school. I, myself, am a CLEO Fellow. CLEO (Council on Legal Education Opportunity) is a program created by the American Bar Association’s initiative to recruit more diverse students for the bar. There are many other programs like it around the nation and they range from those sponsored by major law firms, to higher education institutions and non-profit organizations aimed at diversity in the professional workplace. For low-income individuals who come from a less privileged background with no ties to legal professionals, these types of programs are crucial step on a pathway towards a solid foundation for a successful legal career. These are my top 5 reasons for why pipeline programs are so important, and why (if you’re an aspiring law student) you should strongly consider applying to one in your near future:
1. Boost your network to increase your net worth.
My parents immigrated to the United States in the 1970s. My father worked as a baggage handler for an airline and my mother was a nurse. I had only one uncle who was a lawyer, and he lived back where my parents were from, which was conveniently over 7,000 miles (by plane) away. I had no idea what it was like to be an attorney except for what I saw in movies and tv shows. Pipeline programs give you access to a whole world of working professionals. Among them are many minority and diverse attorneys who are willing and eager to offer advice and be mentors to aspiring law students. The best place to meet and network with these working professionals who share similar stories of adversity, is through pipeline programs.
2. A day in the life of…
The CLEO program I attended was wonderful in terms of putting us through a rigorous study/class/exam schedule. Law school is nothing like undergrad (Surprise!). The readings are extensive during your first year, and your whole lifestyle has to change to make room for it. For some students, it comes as a shock. Especially those who come from a disadvantaged background where working and going to school are the norm because wealthy family lineages or full-ride scholarships are nonexistent. I know for myself, as a single mother of two children, a lot of changes had to be made with my daily routine with my children to make time to study and get any assignments done. Balancing your work-life (if there is such a thing) will be tricky, and some pipeline programs will give you a chance to prepare to restructure your life and practice new routines that work for you.
3. Get to know yourself.
In addition to rearranging your schedule and staying home all the time (just kidding…not really), you’ll get an opportunity to figure out how you like to study. Are you better doing a group study or flying solo? When taking an exam do you need earplugs or do you like to hear aggressive typing? Are you better writing notes down on paper or taking notes on the computer? What’s the best note-taking software and how should you keep things organized? It’s always much better to test the waters out sooner rather than later especially when grades begin to matter.
4. The stakes are high.
I had a discussion with a certain pipeline program director and we both agreed that for a lot of minority or diverse students the stakes are much higher when it comes to higher education. The student loan debt can become astronomical and the entire success of a person’s life depends on the successful completion of the program with a degree, and more importantly, with a job offer by the end of it all. To fully understand what you’re getting yourself into, pipeline programs will give you a head start on what areas of the law might interest you, or what areas of the law bore you so you know to avoid those classes and skip out on getting a bad grade. You’ll hear from many professional speakers who will let you know what they do and you can envision that same career for yourself (or not) whether legal or non-legal. The important thing is at least you’ll get the opportunity to try and figure this stuff out early before you wallow through hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and not know what you want to do by the end.
5. Lifelong friends.
It is vitally important to connect with colleagues and mentors who understand what it’s like to be a minority woman going through law school or out in the legal world. In law school, you will gain lifelong friends and a pipeline program could give you a jumpstart on connecting with other law students who are gearing up to begin the same journey towards a new, exciting career. Often times they will be from various parts of the country, or perhaps even from the same city. My pipeline program put us all together in a different city for 6-weeks, sharing dorm rooms, taking all the same classes, and eating in the same places. As you go through law school and into a legal career it’s always nice to have people who have shared the struggle of coming from a low-income or minority person through the process of law school and onto a promising career.
For pipeline programs near you, please visit the American Bar Association’s diverse pipeline directory search engine for more information: