This year, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion held an illuminating new pre-orientation program designed to maximize the chances for students from groups underrepresented in the legal profession to be successful in law school and beyond.
Called Lighting the Pathway, the three-day program in early August gave a diverse group of 12 incoming students, all of whom have faced discrimination or social or economic hardship, valuable insight into how to navigate law school and guidance on some of the most important skills required.
The program was the brainchild of Troy Riddle, Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, who wanted to make students aware of things that he knew nothing about when he entered law school, such as law journals and their significance. “Employers really look for that involvement in law journals,” Dean Riddle said. “If you don’t know about it, you can’t aspire to it, and you certainly can’t achieve it.”
“Being on Law Review is the crowning glory of law school, but you must be in the top of your class to get invited,” he explained. “What many students don’t know is that there is a write-on process—a journal competition over the summer. I want to make sure they know about these and other opportunities so they can work toward them.”
One attendee said, “Lighting the Pathway helped put my mind at ease about how things work in law school and what I should and should not do to succeed.”
Dean Riddle and a handful of faculty put together a curriculum that packed valuable information and experience into the three days, including a mock doctrinal course on the property concepts of bailment and gifts, and skills sessions on case briefing, rule synthesis and outlining, and exam writing. “The experience with Socratic questioning and [taking an] exam made both a lot less scary,” said one student. “I have an idea now what to expect.”
The group also got an overview of how the legal system works and a comparison of the U.S. and New York systems. “We went over the appellate court’s function and how a case gets to the Supreme Court, so that when these students read a case and try to figure out its significance, they will know to look at what court it happened in,” Dean Riddle explained.
Finally, current law students participated in a panel discussion on “What I Wish I Had Known,” for which the organizers left the room so that students could talk freely with the incoming 1Ls. “I wanted them to realize the benefit of the program and understand the advantage they’re getting,” Dean Riddle said.
Dean Riddle intends to convene the students and faculty each semester to offer support in preparing for midterms and finals and to monitor their success. “The goal of Lighting the Pathway is to help these students aspire to the higher end of class rankings and to have the opportunities that come with that,” he explained. “I’d rather they be able to choose whether to take or turn down opportunities than not have access to them at all.”
Dean Riddle said he looks forward to offering the program again next summer, after making any adjustments based on student and faculty evaluations. He intends to open the application process earlier so that more students can plan to attend—although he wants to keep the program intentionally small to provide the individual attention and feedback that makes the program so valuable.