Council on Legal Education Opportunity
After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this country’s bar associations and law schools tackled the lack of minorities in the legal profession. Inspired by a 1965 summer preparatory program at Harvard University geared toward college students from traditionally black colleges and universities, coupled with a program at Emory University that guaranteed law school admission to black college graduates who completed its summer program, the Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO) came into being under the American Bar Association’s nonprofit Fund for Justice and Education.
Cassandra Sneed Ogden
CLEO sponsored its first six-week institutes in 1968 in cooperation with four of the country’s leading law schools—Denver, Emory, Harvard, and UCLA. The following year, it grew to 10 regional institutes. Since then, CLEO annually has conducted its flagship Six-Week Summer Institutes, producing more than 7,000 alumni. “Since 1968, CLEO has been preparing students from diverse backgrounds to become members of the legal profession,” notes Cassandra Sneed Ogden, executive director of CLEO. “More than 7,000 practicing attorneys began their training with CLEO. Through them, we are achieving our goal each day—namely, training tomorrow’s lawyers, preparing tomorrow’s leaders.”
CLEO’s programs are geared toward empowering traditionally disadvantaged students—minority and low-income students—to gain admission to and succeed in law school. CLEO understands that many minority students are the first in their families to go to law school. Many have no point of reference as to what to expect or what is expected of them. CLEO fills the role of that mother or uncle who is a practicing attorney and who can offer friendly and much-needed advice on what it means to become a lawyer. “CLEO prepares students for their appointment with law school,” explains Ogden. “It helps them all the way through and gives them that extra edge they need to succeed.”
CLEO has helped widen the pipeline of minority and low-income students who want to enter the legal profession. By increasing the pool of applicants and increasing the percentage of minority law students, CLEO has played an integral part in diversifying the profession. By doing so, it has helped corporate America become more diverse and better equipped to serve its diverse clientele in this global economy.
This year, CLEO is celebrating its 40th anniversary. “As director of the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization committed to increasing the number of low-income and minority student law-school graduates, I am proud of CLEO’s accomplishments,” says Ogden. “Propelled by their participation in the six-week pre-law summer program, CLEO alumni have become renowned legal scholars and law professors; respected judges; corporate, criminal, and civil attorneys; prominent politicians; and more.” To celebrate its achievements and further pursue its goals, CLEO has been hosting a series of receptions around the country. Each reception has served as a tribute to CLEO’s legacy of diversifying the legal profession over the past 40 years.
As it plans for its next decade of growth, its mission to empower tomorrow’s lawyers and tomorrow’s leaders is more relevant than ever. With threats to diversity coming from courts, government, and other sources, CLEO remains a stalwart supporter against the anti-diversity tide. “Minorities are underrepresented in the legal profession. The ultimate goal of CLEO is to help create a legal profession that looks more like the face of America,” says Ogden. She hopes that the students CLEO has helped to become part of the legal profession will return to their communities and provide legal services to those who need their help. To help accomplish this, CLEO is looking to corporations, law firms, and individuals to raise needed funds to keep the pipeline of minority students flowing.
The funds CLEO has raised thus far have supported a wide variety of programs, which includes its six-week summer institute, the core of the CLEO program. Students devote that time to briefing cases, preparing outlines, practicing the Socratic method, and learning the legal terminology that will enable them to begin law school with an edge. CLEO also offers other programs, including Attitude is Essential, a three-day orientation for entering law students; College Scholars Program, one-day workshops for college students interested in attending law school; Sophomore Summer Institute, a four-week residential program that focuses on critical thinking and analytical reasoning; and Bar Preparation Seminar, which introduces third-year law students to the demands of preparing for the bar exam.
In addition to helping students through school, CLEO has created a network to help students land a job. The CLEO DiverCITY NetworkTM is a nationwide network composed of law firms, corporations, law schools, governmental agencies, nonprofits, and minority bar associations that are committed to increasing diversity in the legal profession by seeking out the best minority law students and attorneys. The network has accomplished this in part through its Minority Law Student Network Database (MLSND). The MLSND lets qualified members post their free profiles on a Web site that registered members (e.g., law firms, corporations) can log on and search to increase the number of qualified minority candidates with whom they come in contact. CLEO hopes to make the MLSND the place for organizations to go when they are in search of tomorrow’s most qualified minority legal talent.
CLEO continues to play an integral role in increasing the number of minority students entering law school and empowering those students to do well, graduate, pass the bar, and find jobs where they can give back to their communities. CLEO is certainly an organization that deserves our thanks and our support. DB
|CLEO Calendar of Events|
|CLEO Connection Monthly Pre-Law Clubs
Detroit, Mich.—December 3, 2008
San Francisco, Calif.—December 4, 2008
Washington, D.C.—November 13, 2009
Chicago, Ill.—November 20, 2009
|Southwest Region 40th Anniversary Reception
Atlanta, Ga.—December 11, 2008
|Mid-Winter Bar Preparation Program
Washington, D.C.—January 2–4, 2009
|College Scholars Programs
San Francisco, Calif.—January 24, 2009
Albuquerque, N.M.—February 28, 2009
Washington, D.C.—March 7, 2009
|Mid-Summer Professional Development Seminar and Career Fair
Detroit, Mich.—June 6–8, 2009
|For more information on these and other events, please visit www.cleoscholars.org.|
Francisco Ramos Jr., Esq., is a freelance writer and partner at the Miami-based offices of Clarke Silvergate Campbell.
From the November/December 2008 issue of Diversity & The Bar®