Alumni share law school and career guidance with Duke Law PLUS undergrads
Duke Law's annual four-week summer program provides rising sophomores and juniors with first-hand alumni insights on pursuing law school and legal careers.
Talented rising college sophomores and juniors logged on to this summer's LSAC PreLaw Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) Online Program at Duke Law School, and engaged with Duke Law alumni working in today's leading legal sectors. They also heard from three 2018 graduates of the PLUS program who are now attending law school, including Sadé Harper, a rising 2L at Duke Law.
The four-week program is led by Duke Law's director of diversity initiatives, Ebony Bryant, and annually enrolls 20 to 40 undergraduates from the Southeast, with a focus on students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities and members of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. While the program is targeted primarily to first- and second-year students of color, Duke Law PLUS also includes first-generation college students.
Bryant said her apprehension about running a virtual program was quickly dispelled.
"I loved having the students in person and being able to get to know personalities and spend quality time. I just could not believe that I would be able to build the same type of bond through a computer screen. I was wrong," she said.
"By the end of the fourth week, my heart was so full and my pride in these online students was through the roof. We laughed and learned together and I watched students, often underestimated, rise to the top.”
Alumni spoke with PLUS students each week and shared their first-hand experience on a number of topics, including how they chose law school, their experiences in law school, and what it's been like to practice law. The program was intentional in bringing alumni from a variety of careers that would expose the students to everything from federal and state government positions to corporate law and in-house practitioners.
During the first week, Duke Law alumni Celeste Jackson ’15 (senior associate, Linklaters), Lauren Myers ’17 (Associate, Kelley Drye & Warren LLP), and Liz Wangu wa Makeri ’16 (legal counsel, International Finance Corporation) kicked off the first alumni panel. They spoke with the students about how to make the best of the law school admission process. Each alum provided insights into their personal journeys to law school and encouraged students in making their next steps.
"I commend Ebony Bryant and Duke Law for their service to these talented students and the legal profession, generally," Jackson said. "The legal profession is trying to be more inclusive but it’s a slow process. I encourage the students to be confident in themselves and their abilities. Minorities are not privileged to be in the profession of law; we belong here!
"Furthermore, it’s important that students and practicing attorneys alike define themselves rather than letting the profession or others define them, understand their worth, and advocate for themselves."
Said Myers: "I credit the Duke Law community, and Ebony Bryant specifically, for getting me to where I am today, so I am always eager to give back to Duke when given the chance. I applaud Ebony and Duke Law for establishing the PLUS Program, given the lack of representation of minorities in the profession, and I appreciate having had the opportunity to share my own experiences with such bright and motivated undergraduate students."
Describing the PLUS program as "a terrific initiative," Wangu wa Makeri said the Law School's efforts to train, advance, and invest in young talent made her very proud to be an alum and part of the Duke Law community.
Added Jackson: "I truly believe these students have a bright future ahead of them, and with the right mentality and control over their identity, they will be effective change-makers in our profession."
Week two put students in touch with Duke Law alumni working in the law at the local and federal government levels: Dayatra Matthews ’97 (chief legal officer and general counsel, Local Government Federal Credit Union) and Ocoszio J. Jackson ’17 (attorney-advisor, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).
"I loved sharing the wonderfully empowering and fascinating work that comes with being a lawyer. Not only do students from underrepresented backgrounds belong in law school, their presence ultimately strengthens the legal community and our justice system as a whole," said Matthews.
Jackson underscored the importance of raising awareness among diverse and talented students about opportunities in law through the Duke Law PLUS program, as well as the funding and resources needed to support the project to help further diversify the legal profession.
At the midway point of the course, Bryant introduced the PLUS students to Duke Law alumni practicing law in North Carolina. Sofia Hernandez ’09 (senior assistant city attorney, City of Durham) and Daniel Wilkes ’13 (assistant attorney general, N.C. Department of Justice) remarked about the importance of how the practice of law can improve society.
"Meeting the students of the Duke Law PLUS program gave me enormous hope for the future of the legal profession," Wilkes said. "The students showed real eagerness to learn how they could have a positive impact on society through the law. I enjoyed being able to impart what I’ve learned during my career in public service and look forward to being a resource for those I met going forward.”
Added Hernandez: "Helping inform and expose diverse students to the legal studies is something I am extremely passionate about. In particular, I share my story and experience with these students in hopes that they can see themselves reflected in our profession. It would bring me great joy to one day call this great group of diverse students colleagues."
The final week provided a special opportunity for students to speak with not only Lauren Fine ’11 (co-founder & co-director of the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project in Philadelphia), the recipient of Duke Law’s 2020 Young Alumni Award, but also three 2018 PLUS alumni who are rising 2Ls: Martine Augustin (Emory University School of Law), Sadé Harper ’23 (Duke University School of Law), and Sarah Pierre (University of Mississippi School of Law).
"We had a powerful conversation about youth in the adult justice system and ways they can leverage the law to fight injustice," Fine said.
Added Augustin: “Speaking to the students was honestly a 360 moment for me and it was one that really reaffirmed the 'why' of what I do every day fighting to see my dreams into fruition. 'To whom much is given, much is required.'”
"I would not be where I am today without Duke Law PLUS," Harper said. "The program provided me with the resources and network that I otherwise would not have had access to in undergrad. I wish all law schools had a program like Duke Law PLUS."
Added Pierre: "This program is more than just broadening the horizon of youthful perspectives and creating long-lasting friendships. It builds and empowers multifaceted individuals that will later reform and cultivate the legal profession."
This year's course ended on a high note as Duke Law PLUS celebrated its first law school graduate: Mireya Colin, who graduated from the Campbell University School of Law this year. Bryant also celebrated the program's 2021 Fellows at the Duke Law PLUS Instagram page.
"Ninety-eight students have come through the PLUS Program and PreLaw Fellowship at Duke Law – 98 unique and amazing stories of wanting to go law school but not sure they could do it,” Bryant said.
“They came in nervous and curious, unsure of what to expect, and left understanding how to brief a case with the best of them and write with clarity. They learned how to take all of the experiences that they thought were unacceptable and incorporate them into their résumés and interviews. They learned what law school really looked like and how many amazing opportunities lie in the legal field, beyond what they had imagined. Ninety-eight students learned that they could go to law school and thrive. I am extremely proud to be a part of these 98 special stories."