PreLaw Fellowship Program prepares minority and first-gen students to pursue law school
The month-long experiential program provided rising sophomore and juniors with tools to succeed in law school and beyond.
In June, Duke Law School’s PreLaw Fellowship Program welcomed its fifth class, giving 22 college students their first taste of law school.
The participants were all rising sophomores and juniors at colleges and universities in the Southeast, with a focus on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities and first-generation college students. They lived on Duke University’s campus for four weeks, attended classes with Duke Law faculty, and received guidance on applying to law school and navigating legal career paths.
“It has been a wonderful four weeks,” said Ebony Bryant, director of diversity initiatives at Duke Law. “These students have worked hard in their classes, engaged with an amazing and diverse group of lawyers and judges, and visited a variety of law schools. All of this, while creating a powerful cohort and network that they will call on for years to come. I could not be more proud of them and their futures!”
Added Seth Hughes, a junior at North Carolina State University: “I had a great experience with the program. I was able to learn a lot, not only from my peers, but from the professors and from everyone that we met at the program.”
PreLaw Fellowship classes covered a wide range of legal topics, including Criminal Law taught by James E. Coleman, Jr., the John S. Bradway Professor of the Practice of Law and director of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic; Law 101 and Colorism taught by Trina Jones, the Jerome M. Culp Professor of Law and director of the Center on Race, Law, and Policy; Contracts taught by Barak Richman, the Katharine T. Bartlett Professor of Law; Legal Writing & Analysis taught by Clinical Professor Jerry Mullem; and, Property taught by Clinical Professor Jesse H. McCoy, supervising attorney in the Civil Justice Clinic.
Jaylon Moore, a sophomore at New Orleans HBCU Dillard University, said classes with Coleman involved more than learning about the law: “He taught us to be confident in our answers, to be precise, and I think those two things are valuable. The way in which he taught, and he lectured were interesting to me.”
Sage Allen, a sophomore at Spelman College, said the program's mock trial exercise with McCoy emphasized the importance of teamwork in a legal case and value of learning from constructive criticism.
McCoy guided the students though a tenant-landlord dispute, dividing them into plaintiff and defense teams, with different students handling opening statements, direct examination, cross examination, and closing statements, plus two students acting as witnesses and six serving as a mock jury. Both plaintiff and defense were represented by four student attorneys.
“First of all, the students were awesome and all exhibited tremendous promise," McCoy said. "The jury found in favor of the plaintiff (landlord) and we allowed them to comment as to why they made that decision, which provided the attorneys with unique feedback on what elements of a case the jury really honed in on.”
In addition to learning about the rule of law, students engaged with practitioners, including attending a luncheon with judges enrolled in Duke’s Master of Judicial Studies program. Bryant said the students were able to ask the judges a variety of questions, ranging from why they chose to be a judge to what it was like for them at law school.
Camila Collante, a junior at Wingate University and the first in her family to attend college, said she found meeting Duke Law alumni helpful and meaningful. She was brought to tears when Lecturing Fellow Sofia Hernandez ’09 shared about her journey to her career practicing law.
“I never really had the chance to ask a close family member or my parents or a cousin or a brother about what post-grad really looks like,” Collante said. “I felt like that representation gave me a lot more motivation to grow and show my community that we can all make it. If she can do it, then I can do it.”
Hughes, whose interests include environmental law, sustainability, and architecture, credited Hernandez with helping open his eyes to the potential versatility of a legal career. Hernandez shared how her position as a senior assistant city attorney for the City of Durham exposes her to many areas of law, including criminal law and property law.
Deanna Evans ’13, counsel at WilmerHale, spoke to the students candidly about the level of commitment involved in working at a top law firm in a major city like Washington, D.C. Hearing that, Collante said she feels better equipped to make smart choices about her future career in the law.
“I’m someone who looks forward to having a family and being able to give my mom and dad the time that they deserve,” Collante said.
Students also visited local law firms to see inside the inner workings of a legal practice. Moore said visiting Smith Anderson in Raleigh was particularly memorable for him and he identified with a partner who shared about his personal inspiration to pursue a legal career and his interest in business law.
“I was really appreciative to meet with partners of the firm, listen to some of their experiences,” Moore said. “I was motivated at a high level.”
Students also visited other local law schools, including the University of North Carolina School of Law, Campbell University Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, and North Carolina Central University School of Law, where they met students in the NCCU Law Summer Start Initiative. Allen said she feels better informed about not only how to apply to law school, but about what factors to consider in picking a law school that would be the best fit for her.
“You gain a lot of friends and a sense of community. I’m still in touch with everyone I did the program with,” Hughes said. “It’s a great program to network.”
Added Allen: “The beauty of the program is that it’s not just for four weeks. It’s for the rest of your life.”
"I am incredibly proud of these 21 students," Bryant said. "They ushered the program into its next phase in a brilliant way, as it transitioned from being grant funded to being supported by the Law School and a wonderful group of sponsors. They join 98 other amazing young leaders who completed the program in the first four years and are already making their impact on the world.
"It was a tremendous honor to watch how this program has challenged and encouraged these students to go after their goals!"
This summer’s Duke PreLaw Fellowship Program at Duke Law was sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co., Duke Energy Corporation, WilmerHale, Smith Anderson, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, and McGuireWoods LLP. Follow the Duke Law PreLaw Fellowship program on Instagram at @dukeprelawfellowship.
Students who attended this year's Duke Law PreLaw Fellowship program engaged in a variety of activities inside and outside of the classroom to provide them with a sense of life as a law student and legal professional practicing law. These included classes taught by Duke Law School faculty, workshops on law school admissions led by Law School staff, a mock trial exercise with Clinical Professor Jesse H. McCoy, and visits to law schools in the Research Triangle area.