Sidley Austin’s “Prelaw Scholars Initiative” Enters Second Year
Kathryn R. Stell
Poised to announce its 2008 scholarship winners as this issue went to press, the Sidley Prelaw Scholars Initiative (Initiative) represents an innovative push to widen the diversity pipeline to the legal profession. Created by Sidley Austin LLP’s Director of Diversity, Kathryn R. Stell, the Initiative hits at the very base of the profession—the law school admissions process—by financially assisting racially diverse law school students who find it difficult to afford LSAT Kathryn R. Stell prep courses and steep fees associated with law school applications.
A recent study by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) demonstrates that the 16-year slow-growth rate of racial and ethnic minority law-school enrollment has begun to decline.1 The Initiative attempts to counter a potential downturn in the number of minority attorneys practicing law.
“Sidley Prelaw Scholars” are selected from an applicant pool of third- and fourth-year minority undergraduate students who demonstrate academic promise and financial need. Currently, 25 of the scholars are chosen from a group of undergraduate institutions, which are hand-picked by Sidley Austin’s diversity committee. These institutions were chosen due to their prestigious academic reputation and high percentage of student diversity. Another five of the scholars are chosen from the pool of applicants attending other accredited four-year undergraduate colleges. The approximately 30 accepted students each year receive $2,500 to cover tuition for a commercial LSAT preparatory course, the registration fee for the LSAT, and application fees for up to seven law schools. In addition, successful applicants receive assistance in creating a successful law-school application.
An integral part of the Initiative is to ensure rigorous and guided preparation for the LSAT, given that many financially strapped law-student hopefuls eschew formal classes, opting instead to teach themselves and take the test twice. This facet of the scholarship significantly strengthens the test scores—and thus the application—of each student. As part of the Initiative, leading LSAT prep course companies Kaplan and Princeton Review, along with LSAC, which administers the LSAT, are partnering with the firm to make registration and attendance easy and convenient.
The Initiative, however, extends its reach beyond financial support—and on a “no-stringsattached” basis. Sidley Austin provides the scholars with seminars prior to starting law school, focusing on the American legal system and other topics traditionally taught in first-year law school courses. Additionally, the firm provides a bastion of networking opportunities and advice regarding law school applications.
Sidley Austin implemented the Initiative not only to increase the number of minority undergraduates applying to law school, but also to improve and increase pre-law information and advice customarily provided by college pre-law advisors. The firm hopes that the combination of scholarship funds and the advice it provides to the students will provide necessary but lacking components for success in securing admission to law school—and, ultimately, successful legal careers.
For more information on the Sidley Prelaw Scholars Initiative, please visit www.sidley.com/careers/sidleyscholars.asp. DB
1 See Law School Admission Council, Volume Summary Admitted Applicants by Ethnic & Gender Group, available online at www.lsacnet.org/data/Volume-Summary-Ethnic-Gender-Admits.htm.)
From the May/June 2008 issue of Diversity & The Bar®