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NIU Law creates innovative program to decrease barriers to law school

July 8, 2019

The Northern Illinois University College of Law recently launched a new and innovative program called The Legal Education, Access, and Recognition (LEARN) Program at Northern Illinois University. The program, which is funded by a $125,000 grant from AccessLex Institute, is directed by Interim Assistant Dean Yolanda King and Clinical Associate Professor Wendy Vaughn.

Twenty-five students were chosen for the inaugural LEARN Program at NIU College of Law.

Through its Diversity Pipeline Research Grant Program, AccessLex provides funding to programs and initiatives aimed at helping college students and/or graduates from historically underrepresented groups successfully matriculate into law school and the legal profession.

“The purpose of the LEARN Program is to decrease barriers to matriculation at any law school,” said Interim Dean King. “Our hope is that this program will provide LSAT preparation and other resources so the students can prepare stronger applications and be admitted to the law schools of their choice.”

Interim Dean King was motivated to create this diversity pipeline program following her experience as chair of the admissions committee. She saw the number of historically underrepresented students that were denied admissions largely due to a low Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) score. After collaborating with Professor Vaughn, they decided to apply for the grant in order to fund the program.

Twenty-five students have been chosen for the inaugural program. The students’ backgrounds range from those who have recently completed their undergraduate degree to those who are considering the legal field as a second career. The one thing that all the students have in common is that they took the LSAT and were either denied admission to law school because of a low LSAT score or they were so discouraged by their low LSAT score that did not apply to any law school.

While each diversity pipeline program is different, the NIU LEARN program is distinct. According to Interim Dean King, “Our program is unique because it provides a range of services that will prepare students for the law school admissions process. We are specifically targeting students from historically underrepresented backgrounds who have taken the LSAT, which shows they have a demonstrated interest in attending law school.”

Professor Vaughn added, “LSAT preparation is a major piece of our program. We’re also providing workshops that will help them with every part of the law school admissions application which will include helping them evaluate scholarship and financial aid opportunities.”

During the course of the LEARN Program, which runs from June 2019 through January 2020, students will initially meet every week through August and then on a monthly basis through January. Students will receive in-person LSAT preparation taught by Kaplan to help increase their scores, and they will participate in workshops to enhance their law school application essays, financial aid, and scholarship submissions.

Students will receive guidance on improving their interviewing skills and confidence, meet with law school admissions officers, network with attorney and law school mentors, and benefit from continued support and motivation by receiving recognition for achievements in the program. In addition, students will each receive a personal computer tablet for use during the program and will be permitted to keep it upon successful completion of the program.

“We hope to continue the program,” said Interim Dean King. “We are eager to help the students throughout this process and see them matriculate into law schools throughout the country.”