McKinney-ABA pilot seeks non-typical law students

With the start of the spring 2018 semester, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law will be launching a series of classes especially targeting undergraduate students who typically do not enroll in law school.  

The Pathway to the Law online program is a three-year pilot project being co-launched by IU McKinney and the American Bar Association’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Computer-based courses will help the students develop skills they will need if they go to law school, such as critical thinking, reading comprehension, and techniques to study and prepare for tests.

“For students in the law program, it is an excellent opportunity to get the kind of experience, learning and skills that will help them get into law school, succeed in law school, pass the bar and have a successful legal career,” said IU McKinney vice dean Antony Page.

Page and IU McKinney professor Max Huffman wrote the law school’s proposal for the project after the ABA issued a request for online programs that would enable students from underrepresented groups get into law school and become lawyers.

Underrepresented groups include women, ethnic and racial minorities, first generation to go to college and individuals from lower socioeconomic status.

“Personally, I am excited to be part of a project that I think has a real opportunity to benefit the exact group of students we’re seeking to bring into the law school,” Huffman said.

If the pilot project is successful, the ABA could expand the program nationally.

IU McKinney is designing four semester-long online courses that will be taught by law school faculty with help from faculty in the IUPUI School of Liberal Arts. Also, under the direction of IU McKinney associate professor Lahny Silva, the law school is enlisting attorneys and current law students to volunteer as mentors for the participants in the Pathway program.

The ABA is funding the program with a $250,000 grant. According to Huffman, about half the money will go toward scholarships for the undergraduate students and the remainder will be used to develop the courses and help cover the cost of LSAT preparation programs that any of the undergraduates take.

IU McKinney is modeling its online curriculum after a handful of courses already offered by the liberal arts program that introduced the law, legal writing and critical thinking to undergraduate students. In addition, the law school is drawing upon its own experience in developing online classes for law students.

Huffman stressed the Pathway courses will not be canned films of a professor lecturing in front of a blackboard. Rather, the online content will include a heavy dose of interaction between the students and the professors, and among the students themselves. Students will work with the faculty and their classmates as well as with their mentors as they progress through the course material.

The goal, Huffman explained, is for the Pathway project to replace luck with ability. Currently some successful law students are lucky either at developing the specific skills they need before they start their legal studies or gaining them soon after classes begin. Pathway students will learn and nurture the necessary skills so they will not have to rely on luck when they start their legal education.

Currently, IU McKinney is taking applications for the Pathway program and is planning on having an initial class of 50 students. The program is generally designed for undergraduates who have between 50 and 70 credit hours to complete and are expecting to receive their degrees in either December 2019 or the summer of 2020. Learn more about the program or apply here.  

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