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Law School Teams Up For Diversity

April 21, 2009

The USF School of Law has joined the Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) in an attempt to recruit more minority students to become lawyers.

Richard Sakai, co-director of the Academic Support Program, leads USF's involvement in Destination Law School.

Dubbed Destination Law School, the new program was launched in fall 2008. It expands previous BASF outreach programs aimed at high school students, graduate students, and professionals to include college undergraduate students. Growing the number of minority lawyers has proven to be a slow process over the years nationwide, with just 4.08 percent of minority men making partner in the nation's major law firms. At 1.84 percent, even fewer minority women make partner, according to the 2008–09 NALP Directory of Legal Employers, the annual compendium of legal employer data published by the National Associate of Law Placement.

"The program is meant to reach out to students of color or those who are otherwise diverse," said Yolanda Jackson, BASF deputy executive director and diversity director.

The new program was developed following an assessment by BASF that recognized a gap in its recruitment efforts at the undergraduate level, Jackson said.

"I have always been concerned about improving minority access to legal education and the law profession," said Richard Sakai, co-director of the Academic Support Program at the law school, who heads up USF's involvement in Destination Law School. "I believe one avenue to improving access is legal education reaching out to high school and undergraduate schools."

Sakai is one of a number of law school professors and staff from Bay Area colleges teaching workshops for Destination Law School, including San Francisco State, University of California, Berkeley, and others.

Destination Law School runs from October through April, with workshops held intermittently at BASF's headquarters in downtown San Francisco. The workshops include a step-by-step workbook for students on preparing themselves to pursue a career in the legal field, detailed descriptions of what they can expect from law school, LSAT preparation tips, an outline of various law specialties, and panel discussions with lawyers, law students, and judges.

Getting students thinking like lawyers by posing a hypothetical case of a manufacturer's toxic emissions causing property and personal damage to adjacent citizens is one of his favorite workshop lessons, Sakai said. "The students are presented with a statute, a regulation, and several excerpted cases," Sakai said. "I teach them as I would any first year law class, riddling them with questions and challenging their answers, seeking further issues and reasoning."