In the decade since its launch, the Sidley Prelaw Scholars Program has supported more than 350 racially or ethnically diverse, high-performing students in their quest to attend law school and join the profession of law. Sidley designed the innovative program—a first among law firms—to help address the specific needs of financially challenged, diverse college students seeking to enter law school. It does so by granting financial support for LSAT preparation courses and law school application fees to diverse students who plan to pursue a career in law.
“The program is just a small piece of Sidley’s overall initiative to increase diversity and inclusion in law schools and the legal profession,” said George Jones, Jr., senior counsel in Washington, D.C. and Chair of that office’s Diversity Committee. “In a way, we are fulfilling the obligation that all lawyers have to give back to the profession and the diverse communities in which we practice. This notion—and our commitment to diversity—is embedded in the firm’s formal mission statement.”
The Prelaw Scholars Program began as an idea by Kathryn Stell, former director of diversity at Sidley. She recognized that the high cost of law school preparation and applications was a significant factor in discouraging some racially or ethnically diverse students from applying.
In 2005, feeling confident that Sidley could provide these students with much needed assistance and guidance, Stell presented her concept to the firm’s leadership, including Tom Cole and Chuck Douglas, chairs of the Executive and Management committees, respectively.
“My approach at the time, was that if a good idea came along, I would say ‘let’s do it’ and get out of the way,” recalls Cole. “Ms. Stell deserves a lot of credit for understanding that in order to increase the number of minority students available to the firm and profession, we would have to fill in the gap between undergraduate and law school.”
Sidley pays up to $2,500 per student to cover tuition in a selected commercial LSAT preparation course, as well as application fees for up to seven law schools. Students are eligible to receive an additional $2,500 in scholarship assistance after successfully completing the preparatory course, applications and pre-matriculation seminar.
Since the program’s inaugural class in 2007, the firm has recruited students from more than 150 colleges and universities across the United States, working in collaboration with deans, career services departments, pre-law student groups and faculty members.
Imani Lee, a 2014 Sidley Scholar, describes what led her to the program.
“My sophomore year of college, I overheard one of my classmates discussing her acceptance into the program with another classmate,” she said, adding, “I asked her for more details on the program and she told me about the great resources and networking opportunities it provided. I wrote down the name, did some of my own research and applied during my junior year of college.”
Participants of the program typically attend the Sidley Scholars Summer Seminar in the summer before law school. This intensive, multiple-day orientation introduces Sidley Scholars to the structure of the American legal system and offers comprehensive instruction on the traditional first-year law school courses, as well as tips on how to succeed in law school.
The Summer Seminar provides students with an opportunity to meet Sidley lawyers and other leaders in the legal community, including judges, academics and in-house counsel for some of the firm’s clients. The Honorable Judge Ann Claire Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, a long-time supporter of the program, has hosted student field trips to the federal courthouse and shared inspirational stories about her life with the Scholars. Judge Sharon Coleman Johnson and Judge LaShonda Hunt have also hosted students in their courtrooms.
Jameson Miller, a 2013 Sidley Scholar, now an associate in the firm’s office in Houston, believes the Summer Seminar played a significant role in helping him take the first steps in his legal career.
“My experience was quite eye-opening given that I was the first in my family to pursue a professional degree,” he said. “I was able to gain tangible first-hand experience that allowed me to successfully navigate law school and start my legal career at a premier law firm.”
For eligibility requirements, an outline of the program and how to apply, please visit www.sidleyscholars.com.