By Debra Talcott
For the fourth consecutive year, the Auburn Hills campus of Cooley Law School hosted the popular College Prelaw Summer Institute (CPSI) for prospective future members of the legal profession. Cooley partners with Oakland University and the American Bar Association’s Council of Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO) to offer the pipeline program. This year, 19 participants—representing 13 colleges and universities in five states as well as the country of Lebanon—came together in late May to begin honing the critical thinking skills that are necessary for success on the LSAT and in law school.
Students were welcomed to the campus by Associate Dean John Nussbaumer and Professor E. Christopher Johnson, both of whom are dedicated to expanding legal education opportunities for students of color, low-income students, and otherwise disadvantaged students.
“It is our hope that this program will help increase the applicant pipeline to law school and grow diversity in the legal profession to better reflect the clients being served,” says Nussbaumer.
Johnson calls the 20-day program a “boot camp” for prospective future members of the legal profession that helps them through a critical thinking and reasoning course and LSAT preparation classes. It is typical that students raise their LSAT scores earned on the first day by 5 points when they retake the exam on the last day of the program.
“The CLEO Prelaw Summer Institute is an excellent example of the pipeline to law school in action,” says Johnson. I know it has made a difference in the lives of the scores of college students who have gone through the program. The end result is an enlightened group of students, some of whom are now pursuing, or thinking of pursuing, careers in the law.”
Students leave the program with a realistic “taste” of the rigors of law school. They also learn about the legal profession through lunch-and-learn sessions with lawyers and judges from diverse backgrounds. The State Bar of Michigan, Young Lawyers Section; the Oakland County Bar Association’s Diversity Committee; the Federal Bar Association; and the Oakland County Bar Association sponsor these informative luncheons. Students are also invited to attend the Mentor Jet Program sponsored by the National Association of Women Judges and the Women’s Bar Association, Oakland County Region of the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan.
Students received 100 hours of free instruction from Cooley Professors Heather Dunbar, Monica Nuckolls, Tammy Asher, Lewis Langham, and Martha Moore. LSAT preparation is provided by Test Prep Services.
“The CLEO program is another example of Cooley’s continuous efforts to improve access to legal education,” says Nuckolls. “Students are given an opportunity to participate in real law classes, including torts and legal writing. They also have a chance to network with lawyers and judges in the community and learn more about what it is like to practice law. It truly is an invaluable experience, and the students leave the program not only with more knowledge about how the law works, but a greater appreciation and respect for the entire judicial system as a whole. This is my second year teaching in the CLEO program, and I feel honored to be a part of it.”
Three of this year’s participants include Catrice Evans, a senior at University of Detroit Mercy; Ebony Jalissa Ivie, a recent graduate of Oakland University; and Scott McCallister, who recently graduated from Oakland and is beginning his graduate studies there. These students, like the rest of the participants, earned the equivalent of two college credits in critical thinking and reasoning. They also received stipends of $750 to compensate their opportunity costs of being in the program instead of the summer workforce.
For Catrice Evans, the highlight of the program was the inspiration she received from her interactions with accomplished attorneys and judges at the Trailblazers Dinner event organized by the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association.
“I was fortunate to have the opportunity, through Dean Nussbaumer, to attend the 20th Annual Trailblazers Dinner at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. Mingling and dining with accomplished attorneys and judges was inspirational, and I was honored to be present.”
As someone who enjoys the learning process and tries to expand her world through new ways of thinking, Evans was a perfect fit for the CPSI program.
“My older sister calls me ‘Inspector Gadget’ because I am always investigating and researching all types of things,” says Evans. “It’s a family joke; I love getting to the bottom of things. Then there’s the part of me that has always tried to help people fight for themselves. I’m always giving advice from my logical point of view.”
Born and raised in Detroit, Evans has not always accomplished her goals the easy way, but her story is a testament to the old adage that “slow and steady wins the race.”
“I attended Southfield High School until my sophomore year then dropped out because of bad grades, poor attendance, and ignorance. Several years later, I earned my G.E.D. When I made the decision to enroll in college, I knew that I had to take that opportunity to pursue my childhood dream. I had always had the desire to practice law; unfortunately, as I grew into a teenager and young lady, the dream got lost. Now that I have children of my own, I want them to have a better life. I always encourage them to pursue their dreams and to give their best effort, so I want to be a positive role model for them. They are my inspiration.”
Evans plans to use the motivation she received from CPSI to pursue her law degree at Cooley.
“I began my collegiate journey with law school as my last stop, and I have not wavered. I have been enrolled full time every semester since January 2010. During my first semester I found out I was pregnant with my second child, but I had already made the decision to pursue my degree, so I could not stop. For me, obtaining a degree is the only way that I could change my lifestyle. It was hard; however, I kept going even while dealing with severe financial hardship,” says Evans.
For Ebony Ivie, the CPSI experience cemented her desire to practice law.
“By far my favorite experience has been my mock trial class. We had the chance to talk to a mock jury as if we were already real attorneys and litigators. It felt like home. My second favorite experience was meeting with the Oakland County Bar Association. I believe that I have received a head start in making vital connections and networks with people who already work in the field,” says Ivie.
Ivie will spend the rest of her summer working as a case manager for families while preparing to take the LSAT in early 2014. She will approach law school the same way she approached her undergraduate studies: as a leader involved in programs and organizations that allow her to work with people from diverse backgrounds.
“When I was a student at Oakland University, I served as a supplemental instructor and tutor for psychology. I also served as the event coordinator for an organization called RED COW, which stands for Revive, Experience, and Dream. Change Our World. This organization focuses on social and community issues, such as HIV awareness and cancer, through campus events, involvement, and enrichment. Finally, I served as vice president of the Apartment Community Council at Oakland University, an organization that works to build a sense of community on campus.”
Like fellow CPSI participant Evans, Ivie has family members who see her as having the “right stuff” to be successful in the legal profession.
“My mom always told me that I had great logic and that I could debate about anything and lead others to see my viewpoint. She always thought that I would make a great lawyer because I have been intrigued by the law and why laws work the way they do. Of course, watching Law and Order inspired me a bit too,” she quips.
Participant Scott McCallister says his son is the one who inspired him to finish his undergraduate degree and to seek out a place in the CPSI program as a valuable learning opportunity.
“I cannot stress enough the tremendously helpful perspective the program offers to anyone considering law school. It is a diverse program with students from unique backgrounds, and the material is an informative and fascinating glimpse of how to approach the LSAT and law school classes.”
McCallister says he enjoyed learning the differences between civil and criminal law and learning to analyze arguments for flaws and fallacies.
“I also learned just how much information lawyers need to juggle and organize in order to be successful.”
McCallister takes pride in continually challenging himself to look at the world through new perspectives and in learning something new from everyone he meets. He is active in his community’s co-rec softball league, and he serves on the Board of Trustees for the Auburn Hills City Library.
“I would like to become a lawyer to make a positive difference in people’s lives,” says McCallister. “It would be a great honor and responsibility to interpret and apply the law.”
Major funding for the College Summer Prelaw Institute comes from the Cooley Deans’ Annual Fund and Oakland University. Nussbaumer said a special thanks to the sponsors for this year’s program: Miller Canfield; Warner, Norcross, & Judd; Jaffe, Raitt, Heurer, and Weiss; Collins, Einhorn, Farrell; Dickinson Wright; Honigman, Miller, Schwartz, and Cohn; Clark Hill; the State Bar of Michigan Young Lawyers, Appellate Practice, and Health Law Sections; the State Bar of Michigan Law Practice Management and Legal Administrators; Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association; and the Oakland County Bar Association.
“In all respects, this is among the premier pipeline programs in the country from my perspective as a former member and chair of the American Bar Associations’s Pipeline Council, which is the ABA’s think tank for pipeline programs.” says Johnson. “It is also one of the reasons I am proud to be a member of the faculty at Cooley Law School. My thanks go to Dean John Nussbaumer, Auburn Hills campus director Audra Foster, and faculty members Heather Dunbar, Monica Nuckolls, Lew Langham, Martha Moore, and Tammy Asher, all of whom have graciously given of their time and talents.”