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Students at the Summer Legal Institute had the chance to learn the ins and outs of the legal profession from local attorneys like Randy Lutz, chairman of Saul Ewing’s Environmental Practice Group, on Friday at Exelon Corp.’s Baltimore office. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

A pipeline for what’s possible in the law

Program seeks to increase diversity in the legal profession

Emmanuelle Yeremou-Ngah has her career path all planned out: She wants to become an assistant U.S. attorney and eventually retire as a judge.

The recent high school graduate was one of about 40 students to participate in this year’s Summer Legal Institute in Washington, a program launched by Chicago-based Just The Beginning — A Pipeline Organization to give students from lower-income communities and under-represented groups a hands-on introduction to the legal profession.

On Friday, the students spent the afternoon in Baltimore at the offices of Exelon Corp., which partnered with Saul Ewing LLP for the program’s last session. The day marked the finale of a week in which Yeremou-Ngah and her peers had the chance to interact with attorneys, judges and educators, to learn about aspects of the law ranging from negotiations to oral argument to the federal court system.

The program aims to serve as a “pipeline” leading students from high school through law school and eventually into the field, said Mark Dinglasan, director of marketing and development at Just The Beginning.

“It’s not just somebody talking at them,” he said. “It’s skills-based volunteerism, so they work hand in hand with the students, to show them that if they could do it, why not them, too?”

Yeremou-Ngah, who attended Charles H. Flowers High School in Springdale, Prince George’s County, said practicing oral argument was one of the highlights of the week.

“I like to argue, and I like public speaking, so that’s always my favorite part,” she said.

The program also incorporates sessions on business etiquette and professionalism, as well as networking opportunities and information on how to build a resume.

Divesh Gupta, associate general counsel at Exelon, said he appreciated the opportunity to influence young students’ decision to enter the legal field.

“If we can get them thinking about a career in law, that can only be helpful to increasing the pool of talented and qualified individuals,” he said.

One of the program’s main goals is to promote a more diverse body of law students who will eventually enter the field, said Saul Ewing partner and volunteer Michelle Lipkowitz.

By tailoring sessions to the students’ backgrounds and interests, the institute hopes to show students how the legal field is relevant to their lives, she said.

On Friday, for example, one session focused on environmental law as it applies to the Chesapeake Bay, since many of the students grew up in the region.

“This is something that’s part of their reality,” Lipkowitz said. “They can see how their lives are being affected.”

Just the Beginning hosts programs in several other cities, including Chicago, and its Washington-based institute generally receives 60 to 100 applications for about 40 slots, Dinglasan said.

Through experiences like visits to various courthouses, lunch with judges and a walk through Exelon’s trading floor, the volunteers said they hope to give the students a lasting impression of what they can achieve.

“We want it to be an experience for them,” Lipkowitz said, “something truly memorable.”