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Vernon Brownlee, a Bowie State University graduate now attending the University of Baltimore Law School, says a special program to help prepare students from Maryland’s historically black universities for law school helped him achieve his dream. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Angelos program opening doors to law school

As an undergraduate at Bowie State University, Vernon Brownlee kept the idea of attending law school in the back of his mind, even though the high cost of tuition threatened to stand in his way.

“I was interested, but it seemed more like a dream than a reality,” said Brownlee, now a second-year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

But as part of a program aimed at preparing students from Maryland’s four historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, for law school, Brownlee earned a full-tuition scholarship to attend UB Law.

None of the state’s HBCUs — Bowie State, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore — offer test-prep courses for law school. But the Fannie Angelos Program for Academic Excellence allows students at those institutions the opportunity to see if the legal world is for them, said Michael Meyerson, the program’s director.

The program, a collaboration between UB Law and the HBCUs, is made up of two parts. One is the Baltimore Scholars Program, which immerses a total of eight juniors or seniors in law school life through a two-week “boot camp” in the winter. The students meet with lawyers and judges, complete law school assignments, and visit law firms.

“They just live as law students and really learn a couple things — one, that it’s a different culture, and two, that they belong,” Meyerson said.

Students who complete the Baltimore Scholars Program and are accepted to UB Law with an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.5 and an LSAT score of at least 152 receive a full-tuition scholarship to the law school.

The second part of the Angelos program awards up to 80 students or graduates, including the eight Baltimore Scholars, a grant to cover all but $100 of a semester-long LSAT preparation course run by Princeton Review.

In addition to providing financial help to students who might not otherwise be able to afford law school, the program aims to help college students at the HBCUs transition into law students, and eventually into lawyers, said F. Michael Higginbotham, a UB Law professor who also runs the program.

Students who are the first in their families to attend law school don’t have the advantage of receiving advice from relatives and friends who’ve been through it before, he said.

“We started to think about how we could emulate what I had — my experience — for these scholars, so we could give them the information I got from family members and friends and relatives, so they would have that same experience,” Higginbotham said.

During his first year in law school, Brownlee said, meetings with the other Baltimore Scholars and faculty advisers helped him stay on track and up to date with assignments. An internship with Maryland Legal Aid over the summer helped him narrow his focus to public interest law and consider representing poor defendants for a living, he said.

“I realized that they really need guidance and assistance in the legal arena and without it, it would be difficult for them to get what need,” Brownlee said.

Because internships are a crucial part of the law school experience, Meyerson said, the money raised at an Oct. 18 gala for the Fannie Angelos Program may help fund unpaid internships for students who couldn’t otherwise take them. Last year, Baltimore lawyer Peter G. Angelos made a $1 million donation to fund the program, which was set to be distributed in five yearly installments.

More than 40 students have earned admission to schools, including UB Law and the University of Southern California, with the help of the program, which is unique among law schools in the nation, Meyerson said. UB Law works with career services offices at the HBCUs to spread the word among students about the opportunity.

“We’re not ‘reinventing the wheel,’ we’re inventing the program. There is no model,” he said.

However, Meyerson added, the program could be used in the future as a template for other law schools or for programs in other areas of study, like accounting or nursing.

“The program could also be replicated, not just around the nation but also in other fields,” Meyerson said. “We don’t have a magic bullet, but it’s one thing that seems to be working.”