Summary: We are creating a pipeline from Title-1 high schools to law schools by offering a four-year YJA Fellowship that provides legal training, internship funding, mentorship, career guidance, and law school admissions support. With every $6,000 we raise, we can support an additional Fellow. With $240,000, we hope to add twenty fellows to the 2023 and 2024 cohorts.
4.5% of attorneys identify as Black and 5.8% as Hispanic. Compare this to 13.4% and 18.5% representations, respectively, in the general population. Frequently recognized as the least diverse profession in America, over 80% of attorneys identified as White non-Hispanic in 2022.
These disparities are not just a matter of pie charts and lopsided numbers. The legal profession is the source of prosecutors (95% of elected prosecutors identify as White non-Hispanic), judges, justices (78% of federal justices identify as White non-Hispanic), and decision-makers in our criminal justice system. This profession is a pipeline into political spaces where decisions are made about resources, services, healthcare, and schools. This is a matter of access to legal power, political power, and economic advancement.
The continued demographic disparities in the legal profession result from existing diversity efforts that fail to invest in access until law students are ready to apply for firm positions. These delayed interventions only shift the short supply of candidates of color toward larger firms instead of increasing access to legal degrees, legal knowledge, and legal careers. These failing methods are why Black attorneys' representation decreased from 4.8% to 4.5% between 2011 and 2022. This is what our collective failure is producing.
We, however, begin investing in diversity with secondary schools.
Our organization, born in a classroom, targets aspiring first-generation lawyers on Title-1 high school campuses. Through school presentations, Law Day events, partnerships with the YMCA, and collaborations with organizations like the NAACP Youth Council, State Bar of Texas, and other non-profits, we connect with students who dream of practicing law. We let them know that we want to provide them with wraparound support to help them overcome the financial and institutional barriers to their development as future legal leaders.
Those students who apply to our program will be evaluated based on their passion for pursuing legal careers, their explanation of why the legal profession needs their voice, and their status as first-gen attorneys. They are NOT evaluated based on their GPA, standardized test scores, immigration status, or admission to a four-year college or university. We recognize that for many of our potential fellows, the same experiences that may motivate them to address the legal needs of their neighbors might be the same experiences that impacted their academics and higher education pursuits. Instead of excluding students navigating our complex immigration system, surviving through violence, or simply struggling with the typical symptoms of poverty, we will meet the students where they are. This commitment allows us to untap the potential and brilliance of the many students overlooked by current education metrics.
For the selected fellows, our fellowship offers four years of programming intentionally planned to help address the most common barriers to the legal profession. The fellowship begins the first summer after high school graduation with an intensive residential Summer Institute that includes rigorous and relevant legal instruction from leading practitioners, visits to the courthouse for trial observations, meetings with local judges, and recreational programming for cohort bonding. For completing this training, fellows receive a $500 stipend. We also provide a $200 gift card for professional clothing so that every fellow can feel confident heading into a courtroom regardless of financial resources. The second summer, fellows earn $1,000 for an 80-hour judicial internship coordinated by Travis County District Court Judge Karin Crump. The third summer, fellows earn a $1,500 stipend for a 100-hour internship with a legal non-profit selected based on their interests and professional goals. Finally, in the fourth summer, fellows receive $1,500 toward an LSAT course. Between our summer programming, we offer career guidance, lunches with lawyers, mentorship, and cohort reunions. Each fellowship costs $6,000, with all the money utilized exclusively for the internship stipends, clothing, housing, food, LSAT courses, and program expenses.
We will produce law school candidates with experience working for legal nonprofits, serving under judges, and knowing how to succeed academically in law school. And when they inevitably face challenges our organization has not prepared them for, they can reach out to us, their nonprofit supervisor, their judge mentor, or one of our many other volunteers to answer their questions. Those relationships do not have an expiration date, nor does our support network.