Posted Nov 28, 2004 06:48 am CST
The ABA had people like Charla A. Hall in mind when it launched the Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund for minority law students in 1999.
Hall, the first member of her family to attend college, already had come a long way from Hinesville, Ga., near Savannah, to do undergraduate studies at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. But she decided to take the next step and attend law school after taking a course on civil rights.
“I fell in love with law at that point,” says Hall. “I was kind of like, ‘Where do I sign up?’ ” Her timing was just right. Hall was selected for the first 20-member “class” of the Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund. Each of the students received $5,000 a year while they attended law school. Every year since, the ABA has selected another 20 minority students to receive Legal Opportunity Scholarships.
For Hall, who attended the University of Georgia School of Law in Athens, the financial boost from the scholarship helped broaden her options after graduation.
“With a whole lot of debt, you’re limited in that,” says Hall, who works at Oliver, Maner & Gray, a mid-sized litigation firm in Savannah. “I was able to make a decision about my career based on what I wanted to do and not what my finances demanded.”
William G. Paul created the legal opportunity Scholarship Fund when his ABA presidential term started in 1999 as part of a larger effort to bring greater racial and ethnic diversity to the legal profession. “We’ve got to work at the front end of the pipeline” by helping more minority students attend law school, said Paul of Oklahoma City, when he announced the scholarship program.
(Paul was recently named by current President Robert J. Grey Jr. of Richmond, Va., to chair the new ABA Diversity Center, which will coordinate the scholarship fund.) After five years in operation, the scholarship fund is looking at ways to bolster its efforts to feed that pipeline, says Suzanne E. Graber, who chairs the committee that selects scholarship recipients.
“The goal is to affirm the ABA’s role as a primary enabler of young people of color to be more financially able to attend law school and become part of a more diverse lawyer population,” says Graber of Green Brae, Calif.
Every year, the 20 scholarship recipients are culled from a list of more than 1,000 applicants, and many are headed for top-tier schools, according to Graber. But Graber says she would like to broaden the spectrum of scholarship recipients to include some students attending mid-range law schools. Graber says she also wants to raise the program’s profile, reinvigorate a mentoring aspect of the program, and find ways to better connect the scholarship students with the ABA.
Izabelle B. Reyes, another member of the first class of scholarship recipients, experienced the diversity pipeline issue at both ends.
In law school, remembers Reyes, whose family emigrated from the Philippines, there was only a scattering of minority students. She also recalls being discouraged by the relatively few women and minorities who had climbed the ladder into partnership ranks at many of the law firms where she first interviewed.
Reyes, a litigator at Alschuler, Grossman, Stein & Kahan in Santa Monica, Calif., believes a more diverse legal profession can more effectively represent the interests of an increasingly diverse society. She hopes to contribute to those efforts at some point through a greater involvement in public interest law.
“I think you can change a lot,” says Reyes, although “in the day-to-day practice, it’s hard to keep that in mind when you’re quibbling over discovery issues.”