Diversifying the Legal Profession, One Student at a Time

July 20, 2020 | Podcasts

While many undergraduates across the U.S. aspire to have a career in the legal profession, the path to law school requires more than a good transcript and desire. Navigating the law school admission process, preparing for the LSAT, and handling the workload of law school classes can be daunting—especially for first-generation, low-income, and minority students. Designed to help members of underrepresented groups in the legal profession, the University of Houston Law Center’s Pre-Law Pipeline Program provides crucial support, including LSAT training, introductory classes, internships, and professional development workshops, to help talented students become familiar with the processes of getting in and succeeding in law school.

UHLC’s Law Dean Leonard Baynes, program mentor and Jackson Walker partner Luke Gilman, and student participant and JW summer intern Jordyn Simmons discuss the Pipeline Program’s mission and the value of attracting diverse talent to law schools. As Dean Baynes puts it, the Pipeline Program is “diversifying the legal profession, one student at a time.”

Jackson Walker is a proud supporter of the UHLC Pre-Law Pipeline Project. To explore the Firm’s commitment to developing a pipeline of diverse talent through initiatives such as the UHLC program, visit JW.com/Diversity.

Greg Lambert: Hi, everyone. I’m Greg Lambert, it’s July 20th, and this is a special edition of Jackson Walker Fast Takes. For undergrad students who are interested in eventually having a career in the legal field, getting admitted to law school is obviously one of their top priorities. Even for students who are high achievers in college, law school can be quite daunting and is even more so for those of us who were first-generation, low-income, or members of a group underrepresented in the legal profession. This is where programs like the University of Houston Law Center’s Pre-Law Pipeline Program come in.

We brought together a panel of guests today to discuss the Pipeline Program, including the Dean of the University of Houston Law Center, Dean Leonard Baynes. Dean, thanks for joining me.

Leonard Baynes: It’s great to be here.

Greg Lambert: We have Pipeline Program participant and a Jackson Walker summer intern, Jordyn Simmons. Jordyn, it’s good to have you here.

Jordyn Simmons: Hi, thank you for having me.

Greg Lambert: And finally, Jackson Walker partner and recruiting partner—and also a proud U of H Law alum—Luke Gilman. Luke, thanks for joining us.

Luke Gilman: Thanks, Greg. Glad to be here.

Greg Lambert: Dean Baynes, how did the Pipeline Program begin, and can you tell us what the overall mission is of the program?

Leonard Baynes: Sure. The program began about five years ago after I became dean. Something that’s always been of importance to me is to give back to the community.

Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I’m a child of immigrants. My parents came to the United States from a small island called Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and they’re smart people but didn’t have traditional education that you would think you would have. I’ve gotten to a position I’m in by the grace of God and help of a lot of other people.

I realized that there’s a lot of people out there who are very, very talented, who are either low-income, first-generation college students, or members of groups that are underrepresented in the legal profession, but they just don’t know what the application process is, what the LSAT is – you just don’t know. That’s why it was my mission always to give back to the community.

The program started about five years ago. Our provost gave us a very healthy, generous startup funds for it, which was very, very helpful. We attract students from all over the country, but many from Texas who have roots in Texas. The program’s designed to give them the tools to succeed, and the program’s done a really, really good job at that.

I’m very thankful for our partnership with Jackson Walker, and the internships and other advice and programming that Jackson Walker does with the students. That’s really instrumental, because it really takes a village to make all these things happen – to give the students the opportunities they need.

The program has been incredibly successful. It’s been recognized many times, one by the ABA for its award for pipeline programs, by the UH Board of Regents for its academic excellence, by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine for its HEED award—the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award. So the program’s been recognized, and it’s been recognized because the results have been amazing. The students have increased their LSAT scores on average each year anywhere ranging from 10 points to sometimes 14 points on average, which makes a big difference for the students. A big difference between going to a law school or not going to law school, going to certain law schools versus other law schools, or getting scholarship dollars to law schools. Even though the program is only five-years-old, we have 61 students who participate in the program, who are now either lawyers or in law school. And they have received $2 million dollars’ worth of scholarships. The students who’ve come to UH – we’d love all of them to come to U of H – but the ones that we have had at UH, one has been named by Forbes Magazine “30 Under 30”; one did a semester-long fellowship at the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C.; another one won the Harriet E. Miers Writing Award from the women’s section in the Texas bar association; one is on Law Review; one is in the top 20% of the class. So, we’ve been very happy with the program. They’ve been outstanding students.

Greg Lambert: How do you find the students to recruit them into the program?

Leonard Baynes: We contact prelaw advisors across the country, and we have relationships with several prelaw advisors. So, many of them are from all over the country, and we tell them about the program and they apply. And then we do a very, very, very rigorous screening process with interviews. Many of my colleagues actually interview the students to make sure that they’re really serious. And we, you know, decide. It’s very, very competitive. We have a limited budget. We try to decide, of the students who apply, which ones would be best matched for the program.

Greg Lambert: Well, Jordyn, let’s switch over to you and hear your experiences on this. How did you find out about the program, and how’s your experience been so far?

Jordyn Simmons: Yes, so I am originally from Houston, Texas. I went up to school back in 2013. I went up to New York, and I attended Barnard College. During my sophomore year, I was really looking for something to give me that introduction to law school that I needed. As a sophomore, there are not many opportunities for students to explore law school, even though that is a time when you should be thinking about what professional degree that you want to get if any. Being from Houston, I knew about the University of Houston Law Center, and I was very, very happy when I discovered the program. I was actually a part of the first class of the program. So, back in 2015. It was a turning point in my trajectory and, like, in what I wanted to do. Throughout the program, I was able to not only get experience taking classes in law school, but I also was able to not be so afraid of law professors as I thought I would be. They were actually normal people.

It just made the whole idea of going to law school and being in those classes more attainable for me. I don’t have any lawyers in my family, and I don’t really know any lawyers aside from the ones that I’ve been introduced through the program and through further internships. So, it was a great way to get introduced to the legal profession, and it was something that really showed me that, you know, this is possible and this is something that I can do.

Greg Lambert: And it also gave you the opportunity to do this summer internship at Jackson Walker. So, how is that going?

Jordyn Simmons: It’s so great. I did the program back in 2015, and I graduated from my undergraduate degree in 2017. I worked as a legal fellow at Pandora Media for a year, and I also worked in marketing at a record label for a year. I kept in contact with everyone in the program. It was such an enriching experience. People like Kristin were mentors to me, and I communicated with her along my journey even after graduating from my undergraduate degree. She let me know about the opportunity the program had for incoming 1L students. And so being that I completed the program, I was really excited to apply. When I interviewed with Luke and Jamila [Brinson] – she’s not on the call – but it was a great experience. I was very, very nervous, especially being that the interview was happening during a pandemic and I wasn’t able to get that one-on-one interaction with them, but it all worked out really well and I’m having such a great experience at Jackson Walker. It’s my first time in the law firm setting, so it’s really giving me the opportunity to see and to learn that this is a place that I could be and this is a place that I can see myself growing through my legal career.

Greg Lambert: Luke, as a recruiting partner for Jackson Walker, I know that diversity is one of the top priorities in getting a pool of candidates. How have you been leveraging the relationship that we have with the UHLC Pipeline Program to find talent?

Luke Gilman: Well, it’s been a great relationship, and it’s absolutely—diversity is a key component of what we do. I really appreciate hearing Jordyn’s description of how she’s kind of become part of our little legal community at the Firm, which is what we’re really looking for. We think that people do their best work when they’re comfortable and when they understand the context in which their work is being done and, ultimately, done for clients. And so until you see it, it’s a little theoretical and it’s hard to know exactly how you fit in, and it’s hard to pick yourself in that place. I remember walking into the lobby and, you know, it was probably the nicest lobby I’d ever walked into before when I started interviewing and going around to different firms, and it was a little bit of a process to figure out do I belong here? Is this the kind of place that I can succeed? And that’s the process that every law student goes through. If you don’t have lawyers in your family, if you don’t have people that kind of introduce you to that world, you’re at a little bit of a disadvantage. This is a program that introduces people, makes them feel comfortable, it gives them the tools to succeed. And now that we’re starting to run into Pipeline students that we’ve met previously through the program, now interviewing at law schools and going through the recruiting process, you can just tell they kind of know the context in which they’re interviewing and they’re prepared to succeed. I know they’re going to be great lawyers because of it. It’s going to pay off dividends for years to come in their career.

Greg Lambert: Dean Baynes, I’ll let you have the final word here. Jordyn had mentioned how stressful it was to interview during a pandemic. Obviously, continuing the program through a pandemic is another challenge. What’s been some of the adjustments that you’ve had to do not just with the pandemic, but also I’d say with the recent social protest around race in the United States. How’s that affected the program overall?

Leonard Baynes: Well, I think we’ve adjusted. Everything is online, so all the classes that we usually have are online, the internships are online, and we’ve adjusted. I think that the students—it actually is sometimes advantageous, because it reduces the cost of the program for us and the students because they don’t have to travel. But you do miss the sort of personal gatherings and meeting of people, which are very, very important. Networking is so, so important.

In terms of social protests, I mean you know we’ve talked about it. I had a session with the students about diversity and how to succeed, and you’ve talked about it. It’s really part of the curriculum. I did a course myself, a one-hour session with some of the students on race and the law. So it’s a way for us to integrate this into our programming because it’s such an important part. We’re really at an inflection point in the United States, where it seems as though things are changing very, very quickly, and we need to move as quickly as possible. And the program, I think, is really a great testament to that. It’s existed before this issue, but we’re here and we have great students, and we’re, you know, and we’re diversifying the legal profession, one student at a time. With the help of Jackson Walker, it really enables us to do that even in a better manner. So, we really appreciate it again – the partnership.

Greg Lambert: Well, Dean Baynes, Jordyn Simmons, and Luke Gilman, thank you very much for talking with me today.

Leonard Baynes: Thank you. Thank you for having us. 

Jordyn Simmons: Thank you.

Luke Gilman: Thank you.

Greg Lambert: Thanks again to the University of Houston Law Center Dean Leonard Baynes, UHLC Pipeline participant and Jackson Walker summer intern Jordyn Simmons, and Jackson Walker partner Luke Gilman for talking with me today.

For additional JW Fast Take podcasts and webinars, visit JW.com/Fast.

Follow Jackson Walker LLP on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

The music is by Eve Searls.

This podcast is made available by Jackson Walker for informational purposes only, does not constitute legal advice, and is not a substitute for legal advice from qualified counsel. Your use of this podcast does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Jackson Walker. The facts and results of each case will vary, and no particular result can be guaranteed.

In This Story

Luke J. Gilman
Partner, Houston