Shashan DeYoung knew the odds were against her to attend law school. As an African American single mom to twins, she realized her chances for success in law school might be lower than many of her classmates. But she was determined.
“Statistically I am not expected to succeed,” she said. “I knew a program like ICLEO would give me the support I needed and would boost my experience, knowledge and confidence.”
This summer, Notre Dame Law School hosted DeYoung and 18 other students as Fellows of the Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunity (ICLEO) at its Summer Institute Program.
The purpose of ICLEO is to assist Indiana college graduates like DeYoung, who are minority, low income, under represented, or educationally disadvantaged, in pursuing a law degree and a career in the Indiana legal community. All of this year’s 19 ICLEO Fellows will be attending one of Indiana’s four law schools in the fall. Four will be attending Notre Dame Law School.
An important element of ICLEO is the Summer Institute Program, an intense, six-week preparatory seminar. It is designed to help students who might need a jumpstart become accustomed the rigor they will experience as law students and provide some of the tools they need to be successful.
“This gives them the opportunity to be better prepared when they start their actual law school classes,” said Professor Christine Venter, director of the Legal Writing Program, who oversaw the program this summer.
Venter provided overall mentoring to the students and developed both the academic and extracurricular experiences for this summer’s program. In a short period of time, participants are immersed into some of the required first-year law school courses. At Notre Dame, the fellows took an academic success course on study tips and strategies specific to law school taught by Professor Julie Douglas. However, the core academic experience was comprised of four sample courses: Civil Procedure with Professor Jay Tidmarsh, Criminal Law with Professor Jimmy Gurulé, Legal Writing with Venter, and Legal Research with Professor Dwight King.
While the courses were abbreviated, the fellows said they thought the professors provided a realistic experience.
“They definitely wanted to help us be prepared, said Raj Patel. “I believe they treated us exactly like any other law students, both in what they expected from us and in the way they were available to help us discern the answers.
“To learn how law school classes are different than undergraduate classes, how to outline properly, how to allocate time have all been valuable learning insights. It is also nice to have a network of friends with the same goals and motivation as you.”
A graduate of Emory University, he will be attending Notre Dame Law School in the fall and plans to study criminal or business law.
The social and networking opportunities, which give the students a comprehensive overview of many of the possible law careers and opportunities available in Indiana, are a key part of the summer program. One of the goals of the ICLEO program is that, after graduation, students will pursue a career in Indiana.
In addition to the Summer Institute Program, ICLEO fellows receive a stipend of up to $9,000 per year, continued networking opportunities, an ICLEO summer employment program during law school, and bar review assistance.
One of this year’s fellows, Ashley Berding, said that, while the scholarship money was what initially drew her to the program, the academic and social opportunities have been very impactful and have exceeded her expectations.
“To have 18 other people in the same situation as you, it’s a nice bond,” Berding said. “It is great to already know people before you go to law school for support and encouragement.
“By studying and interacting with the other students I have already become more open minded to the way I approach and look at things.”
That support is vital. The rigor of law school can be overwhelming, and to have a support network is a key aspect to success and one of goals of the program is to make sure these students have peers that can help encourage them throughout law school. Together, each ICLEO class becomes the root of the network for each other.
Berding will attend Notre Dame Law School in the fall with hopes of pursuing a career in Intellectual Property or patent law. With a bachelor’s degree from the University of Dayton and a master’s degree in chemistry from Notre Dame, she is a first generation college graduate and the first female science graduate student to enroll in the ICLEO program.
Like Berding, many other of these students are first generation graduates and don’t know any lawyers. Venter said mentoring is a very important part of the program. They may not understand the importance of having a mentor from whom they can seek guidance and whose professional demeanor they can emulate. One of the outside events was a visit to South Bend law firm, Faegre Baker Daniels, where students had speed mentoring sessions with attorneys from the firm, discussing the importance of finding a mentor, overcoming fears of law school, and how to pick a practice area.
DeYoung said she was amazed by how many people, “…have heart and truly cared about our success and wanted to help us succeed.” DeYoung and her fellow students participated in special events, field visits, and informal opportunities to build meaningful relationships in the legal community. She said she didn’t really realize the importance of networking until the program, when she saw first-hand the opportunities that it provided.
DeYoung will attend IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law. She is currently a probation officer with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Criminal Justice and Public Safety from IUPUI. She plans to practice in criminal and family law.
“I am a first-generation college graduate and there are no professionals in my immediate family, so I have no one to look up to hone those types of skills,” she said. “Being able to meet judges and attorneys as a rising 1L has given me an invaluable head start in networking and building relationships.
“Now, I have been exposed to a whole host of individuals who value my success.”
Other Summer Institute Program activities included visits to the Federal District Court where the students met with Magistrate Judge Christopher Neuchterlein and a federal prosecutor and defender, a reception at Barnes and Thornburg law firm in South Bend, as well as a visit to the Court of Honorable Ann Williams, J.D. ‘75, Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
Patel said the program has been very valuable as an acclimation to law school. He greatly appreciated the opportunity to be exposed to many different practice areas of the law through various speakers and outside visits. Students had opportunities to meet with representatives from the Indiana State Bar Exam, Indiana Chief Justice, Loretta H. Rush, Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill, and from attorneys practicing in a variety of areas including IP, tax, and sports law.
The fellows said the Notre Dame professors and the 2L teaching assistants, Lavarr Barnett (former ICLEO fellow), Robert Cave and Holly Lucas (former ICLEO fellow), went above and beyond in the program. An example of this was how, early in the program, students had an impromptu visit from U.S. Congressman Keith Rothfus of Pennsylvania, J.D. ’94, who happened to be visiting campus. Rothfus was a member of a congressional committee on stopping funding for ISIS that Gurulé had testified before, and was also one of Gurulé’s former students.
The Summer Institute rotates annually among the four Indiana law schools, IU Maurer School of Law, IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law, Notre Dame Law School and Valparaiso University Law School. For more information about the ICLEO and the Summer Institute Program, visit the ICLEO website at www.in.gov/judiciary/cleo.