CONTACT: Consuelo Lopez-Springfield, (608) 262-1849, [email protected]
MADISON – People of color comprise of nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population, while only 10 percent of U.S. attorneys are minorities.
Students for Equal Access to Law Schools (SEALS), a student organization at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, founded in 2003 by a group of pre-law students, and Consuelo Lopez-Springfield, a pre-law adviser in the College of Letters and Science, have been working to improve diversity in the legal profession.
“SEALS aims to open the pipeline and access to law schools for underrepresented students,” says Lopez-Springfield. “The organization provides resources to underrepresented minority students interest in law. Our resources can enhance an applicant’s academic and civic credentials necessary for successful entry in law schools.”
The executive board, comprised of nine dedicated undergraduates, disseminates information about law school to undergraduates. Monthly meetings features a range of speakers tied to the legal profession.
“We have had a Wisconsin Supreme Court judge speak, along with a bunch of local lawyers from Madison, Chicago and Milwaukee,” says Stephanie Reiter, SEALS co-chair. “We also had an interactive presentation with the admissions director from the University of Michigan Law School. She took us through a sample application – everything from the personal statement to the activity list – and we learned how to prepare a strong application.”
SEALS also offers paid members the opportunity to attend mini-LSAT courses taught by high scoring undergraduates. The organization maintains a close relationship with the UW-Madison Law School and other campus units.
“Instructors from the UW-Madison Writing Center have presented workshops on personal statements,” says Reiter. “And students from UW Law School offer a shadowing day, in which SEALS members have the opportunity to attend law classes.”
SEALS also connects UW-Madison students with Pre-Law Summer Programs (PLUS) for minority students. In summer 2005, with the assistance of this organization, six students attended the highly competitive program at campuses across the country.
The one-month PLUS experience educates students about the legal profession early in their undergraduate career. PLUS students attend lectures taught by law school professors, attend workshops with writing instructors and interact with the local legal community.
“During the last week of the program, we had to do oral arguments in front of three judges and I was terrified,” says Catherine Eskridge, who attended PLUS at Florida State University. “But I amazed myself by getting up in the courtroom and presenting a strong and stable case. The experience helped me learn how to research cases and overcome my fear of public speaking.”
The experience heightened Eskridge’s interest in the profession, and she hopes to attend law school.
“I feel empowered with all this new knowledge about contract law, employment law, tort and legal writing,” says Zer Her, a Hmong student at UW-Madison, who attended PLUS at the University of Nebraska. “Because of this program, I want to become a contract lawyer for corporate law and eventually emerge into criminal law at the federal level.”
For more information on SEALS, visit http://seals.rso.wisc.edu.