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Weich and Tobin: Making Maryland law schools accessible to all

weich-ronald-col-sigAs the deans of, respectively, the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and the University of Baltimore School of Law, we feel a deep obligation to ensure that our schools are accessible to all Marylanders, and that Black graduates of our schools have an equal opportunity to thrive. It is vital for public confidence in the administration of justice that our schools educate lawyers drawn from all of Maryland’s diverse communities.

That’s why we are proud to have partnered with state legislators on a recent initiative to tobin-donald-col-sigimprove diversity in the legal profession. Legislation sponsored by Sen. Cory McCray (SB 526) and Del. Shaneka Henson (HB 1268), and signed by Gov. Larry Hogan on May 18, will establish a Legal Education Success Collaborative, funded at $250,000 annually, to help our schools recruit and educate a diverse student body.

Our two law schools maintain a friendly rivalry in this close-knit legal community, but we were delighted to testify together in support of this bill. Our collaboration in Annapolis this year reflects shared values. Both of our schools want to expand the diverse pool of students applying to law school and make the Maryland bar more inclusive.

And our determination only increases as we reckon with a shameful history of racial discrimination in Maryland legal education, and celebrate Baltimore-born Thurgood Marshall’s successful challenge to discriminatory admissions policies that kept him from even applying to a Maryland law school.

How it will work

At the University of Baltimore, the collaborative will support the Fannie Angelos Program for Academic Excellence. Named after a pioneering UB Law alumna whose family generously helped to launch it, this initiative is designed to identify, mentor and educate promising students from Maryland’s four historically black colleges (HBCUs) — Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

Each year, a cohort of HBCU seniors is selected to participate in an intensive law school “boot camp.”  UB Law faculty and staff provide extensive LSAT preparation, one-on-one academic support, networking opportunities, career counseling and individualized wraparound services related to health, finances and family matters. Successful students earn scholarships to UB Law, including the possibility of a full scholarship.

More than 100 Angelos scholars have graduated from law school with great success, and the program has received the American Bar Association’s prestigious Diversity Leadership Award. The University of Baltimore School of Law has been recognized by preLaw magazine as a “Best School for African Americans” and one of the “Most Diverse Law Schools” in the nation.

At the University of Maryland, the newly authorized Legal Education Success Collaborative will support the Diversity and Inclusion Scholars Initiative, a partnership between the law school and a network of leading Maryland law firms and businesses. Students in the program receive financial assistance, mentoring, networking opportunities and access to skill-building exercises. They also build a strong community within the program to support each other and contribute to one another’s success and sense of belonging.

The program is designed to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to enroll at Maryland Carey Law, and to support their success once they arrive. Established four years ago, the program has already enhanced diversity at the law school and enriched the educational experience of the growing number of Diversity and Inclusion Scholars. The school has the most robust African American enrollment of any top-ranked law school.

To our knowledge, Maryland is only the second state in the nation, after California, to target state funding toward these worthy goals. We thank Senator McCray, Delegate Henson and their colleagues in the General Assembly, as well as Governor Hogan, for helping us ensure equal access to legal education and strengthen diversity in the legal profession.

Donald Tobin is dean of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. Ronald Weich is dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law.