Dillard Notable #5: All In With Pre-Law

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I heard this quote at the UNCF convening related to the Career Pathways grant we received. We watched a Ted Talk by Simon Sinek. One of the ideas that I brought back is that we needed champions for programs to make them outstanding. Our 2 signature academic programs have champions- physics with Dr. Abdalla Darwish, and film with Keith Morris. Our co-curricular signature programs also have champions: The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice with Dr. Beverly Wright, and the Ray Charles program for African American Material Culture with Zella Palmer. These programs gain lots of local, regional and national notoriety because of these champions. And athletics has champions with our AD Dr. Kiki Barnes, our SID Habtom Keleta, our cheer and dance coaches, and our head coaches (all of them)!

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I shared this idea at our faculty staff institute using one of the best examples in the nation. Dr. J W Carmichael, who recently retired from Xavier, is the man who built the pre med engine at Xavier which is clearly their signature program and their university’s brand. I studied him this summer after attending a pre med conference learning more about what Xavier has done and even read how he described the need for a champion to make a program exceptional.

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Attorney General Eric Holder was the first Ortique lecturer in 2010

In 2010, Dillard had an idea for a major pre-law program to honor Justice Revius Ortique, the first African American to serve on the Louisiana Supreme Court and a Dillard graduate. We built back then a mock trial room in one of our new post Katrina buildings, created an endowed professorship, endowed scholarships, and even an annual lecture kicked off by Eric Holder. But we really never developed a program to create a pipeline to law school.

So we hired a full time pre-law advisor, one of just a handful of HBCUs to have one. And the person we hired had spent the past few years doing the job for free in her spare time (she was a practicing attorney, one who is a member of the bar in 4 states and passed each of those state bars on the first try). We hired a champion and I can say that even though I was kept out of the entire search process- because I live with her.

Adria always squirms when I talk about what she has accomplished, but we now have a very robust program that will take our pre-law efforts to a new level. Understand, Dillard was never a slouch sending Black students to law school. Working closely with the Law School Admission Council, she was able to determine that in 2014 Dillard was 15th for HBCUs in having students admitted to law school (total numbers), and we jump to #5 in admits per capita! In Louisiana for all schools, we are number four in total number of Black students admitted to law school, and #3 per capita, only behind Loyola and Tulane (yes, better than LSU).

So this new advisor has had a full year of events, programs, and successes. The record speaks for itself, with programs like these:

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LSAT Prep Course

One of the signature programs has been a FREE, LSAT prep course that has been offered for about 4 years now. Students who have really engaged in this 8 week program have seen scores rise by double digits, which has changed destinations and scholarship awards. Having a champion made it easy to find the area’s best test prep instructor to devote his time and energy to this class.

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And since one of the features of the PSB building that opened in 2010 was a mock trial room, which was used sparingly, a mock trial team was a must to organize. Again, very few HBCUs (less than 5) have teams.

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Judge Kern Reese

Not only did we start a team, but the head coach is a distinguished Judge, Civil District Judge Kern Reese. He VOLUNTEERS his time to help our team- he comes to practice each week! He also, out of his pocket, gave cash prizes to the winners of the intramural competition this year. Dillard will make history when our mock trial team competes in its first competition this coming February.

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University of Houston pre-law summer program

We saw a record number of students attend summer pre-law programs, spending time at Howard, the University of Houston, Florida State, St. John’s, Saint Louis University and the University of Arkansas.

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2016 Summer Scholars

Our director also completed her second Summer Scholars program geared toward students of color from Louisiana who were beginning law school this fall. This program, sponsored by the Kulman Law Firm, is a great way to link the legacy of Justice Ortique and his desire to diversify the legal profession to the entire state. Three Dillard alums participated this past summer.

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The director continued to support local organizations, like the Loyola BLSA annual banquet where she has always purchased tickets and took Dillard students. This year she was the speaker.

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Panel with law school reps from UDC and Ohio State

For Dillard students entering their senior year who were serious about law school, they came back early for an intensive law school admissions workshop. Law school admissions officers from several schools participated in person (UDC, Ohio State, SMU, LSU and Tulane), and by Skype (Cornell and Saint Louis U).

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And using a KIPP model of “To and Through” Dillard alums in their first year of law school were able to participate in several video conferences to check in on their progress, including tips from a former law school academic support officer.

There are weekly newsletters for pre law students and those thinking about pre law.

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As well as trips to the law school forums. This year they went to the Atlanta forum and had a chance to visit Georgia State. They attended the Houston forum the previous 2 years.

She and her students even created a campaign for a different kind of book club discussion group, with a social media campaign featuring a student made video.

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2016 Martinet Legal Society Scholarship Brunch

And when the advisor is recognized by the Louis A. Martinet Legal Society for her work in helping students of color achieve their law school dreams, while in her first year on the job full time (yes, all of this I posted happened in 2016), there is really only one word you can use to describe her.

Champion.

Written by

7th president of Dillard University

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