When the University of Alabama School of Law welcomed the Class of 2023, three of the students had already walked the halls of the building as members of the inaugural class of the Alabama Pre-Law Undergraduate Scholars Program (PLUS).
In 2018, Layne Lightfoot, Roxana Ramos, and Courtney Zotaj, all 1Ls, had learned in the classrooms, met several members of the faculty, and explored the campus when they were still undergraduates at the University of Alabama and Jacksonville State University.
Alabama PLUS allowed Zotaj, of Huntsville, to apply to multiple law schools. She focused her search in the Southeast, with Alabama Law topping the list.
“From our resume and professional skills workshops to panels on career paths in the law, the PLUS Program solidified my decision to apply to law school and gave me the tools I would not have had otherwise to navigate the application process,” she said.
In 2017, the University of Alabama School of Law received a $300,000 grant from the Law School Admission Council to create PLUS. The grant was extended for an additional year due to the pandemic. The program is designed to help prepare students for the law school admission process, to promote success in law school, and to inform students about careers in the legal profession.
The Alabama PLUS program invited 31 undergraduate students to the Law School in the summer of 2018 and for four weeks exposed them to the joys and rigors of legal education. Participants focused on becoming competitive law school applicants, received professional development, and were introduced to different legal practice areas.
“The most enjoyable part of the program was getting the opportunity to work with other students from across the country,” said Lightfoot, an Atlanta native. “I was able to build a strong network of friends to assist me in my journey to law school.”
In just a few years, PLUS has grown into an instrumental pipeline program for Alabama Law. The program gives participants the skills necessary to be competitive law school applicants, said Joshua Porter, Director of Diversity and Inclusion and Assistant Professor of Law in Residence.
“PLUS is an essential program to develop the core competencies necessary for success in the legal profession,” he said. “In order to create a diverse and inclusive legal community, it’s imperative that programs like PLUS continue to thrive.”
The PLUS program also allows students to form relationships with fellow participants, faculty, administrators, staff in the Law School, and members of the legal community, said Daiquiri J. Steele, the former Director of Diversity and Inclusion and Assistant Professor of Law in Residence, who applied for and received the LSAC grant.
“At Alabama Law, the success of the PLUS program was (and still is) a group effort,” she said. “The willingness of the faculty and staff to devote their time and talents to the students is what truly increased the impact of the program.”
During the program’s inaugural year, the participants received an introduction to the law, including legal writing and analysis, and legal ethics. Students also learned valuable lessons about professional conduct in the legal field.
“Outside of the introductory courses we had, I enjoyed the panels and proceedings we were able to observe the most,” said Zotaj. “Not only did these experiences tie together what we were introduced to during our class sessions, but we were able to see how those concepts were applied.”
The days were long. When students weren’t in the classroom, they were visiting Alabama landmarks, including the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, and the Alabama Supreme Court in Montgomery. The rigorous experience left an indelible mark on participants.
“It gave me the opportunity to network with professors, practicing attorneys, and judicial representatives,” said Ramos, who is from Crossville, Alabama. “It set the foundation for my legal learning.”
The PLUS program attracts promising students from groups historically underrepresented in the legal profession, students who come from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as students facing other significant barriers to entering the legal profession.
The program is open to students who have completed their freshman or sophomore years at four-year colleges and universities, technical colleges, and community colleges. Eligible students must have completed between 30 and 60 credit hours by the start of the PLUS Program and have a minimum grade point average of 2.5 (out of 4.0).
For more information and to apply, visit www.law.ua.edu/PLUS.