This year, the University of Alabama School of Law hosted its first-ever Summer Scholars program—a unique opportunity that introduces the study of law to students who come from backgrounds that have historically been underrepresented within the legal profession. Made possible through the generous support of the University of Alabama System’s McMahon-Pleiad Prize, the Alabama Civil Justice Foundation, and Derrick (’03) and Tamesha Mills, 25 undergraduate students from universities and colleges across Alabama and surrounding states participated in the four-week program. Students were provided free housing, a $500 meal stipend, and a $1,000 cash stipend to make up for the loss of potential summer employment.
Throughout the month of June, the program participants engaged in several activities designed to help prepare them to apply to law school and better understand the many career options connected to pursuing a law degree. They went on excursions to meet legal professionals, defended a case in a mock trial event, and heard lectures from numerous professors, alumni, lawyers, and judges.
While much of the Summer Scholars program was hosted at the Law School, students also had several opportunities to visit law firms, tour historical locations, and learn from practicing lawyers and judges. They traveled to the Tuscaloosa Federal Building and Courthouse to engage in a panel discussion hosted by federal bankruptcy Judges Sims Crawford and Jennifer Henderson (’04). Additionally, the students took an excursion to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and met with the firm Wiggins Childs Pantazis Fisher & Goldfarb for a roundtable discussion with several attorneys—including Alabama Law alumna Jenny Smith (’00). While there, the Summer Scholars learned how attorneys deal with tough cases. Attorney Dennis Pantazis shared his experiences working to obtain justice for families who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001, and attorney Jon Goldfarb spoke about his work on Lilly Ledbetter’s case. On a trip to Montgomery, students toured the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum, visited the historic federal courthouse for the Middle District of Alabama, and heard a lecture from Senior United States District Judge Myron H. Thompson. Judge Thompson explained the history of what has often been described as “America’s Courtroom” and the legacy of Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. (‘43) in relation to the Civil Rights Movement. Students also met with United States Magistrate Judge Jerusha Adams, Chief United States District Judge Emily Marks (‘98), and term and career law clerks for the Middle District who discussed the importance of finding mentors and applying for clerkships.
Held in the Bedsole Moot Court Room at Alabama Law, students were split into two teams and given time to prepare, plead, and defend a case in front of Circuit Court Judge Sam Junkin (’00). This all-day mock trial event was a highlight for Autumn Pernell, who currently studies Psychology at The University of Alabama.
“My favorite memory from Summer Scholars was the Mock Trial,” said Pernell. “Getting to do the preparation and research necessary to get ready for a trial really opened my eyes to the work that litigators have to do for their cases. And getting to argue the case in front of Judge Samuel Junkin made me feel like a real attorney and cemented my desire to attend law school.”
Additionally, the students heard from approximately 60 guest speakers over the course of the program, including Al Vance (’00), Chenelle Jones (’21), Charles Fry (’99), Raul Gonzalez (’19), Jilisa Milton (’19) and Bridget Harris (’17), who offered advice and helped the participants explore their passions and inspired them to chase their goals. To help kick off the program, former US District Judge U.W. Clemon inspired the students with a keynote address about their roles in shaping the future of law. Judge Clemon’s former law clerk and program sponsor, Derrick Mills (’03) also talked with the students about the importance of building relationships with the people around you. Participants were introduced to the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program by Shandra Monterastelli (’18) and James Tucker (’86), and they learned about law and athletics with Tiffini Grimes. AccessLex’s Teria Thornton helped explain the costs of law school, and Nathan Smart (’14), Assistant Director for the Alabama Law Career Services office, gave students tips on writing résumés and cover letters.
Reflecting on her experience with the Summer Scholar’s program, Gracie Sears, a Spanish and International Studies student at UAB, shared how the program not only prepared her to study of law, but it introduced her to new perspectives and lifelong friends.
“I would one hundred percent recommend this program to any student,” said Sears. Not only have I had the ability to get a sampling of what law school is like, but I have learned how to carry myself with confidence around really important people, and about how empowering legal knowledge is. This program is filled with the best of the best, and the relationships that I have built with professors and students alike have allowed me to learn so much about other cultures, practices, and people. Being around like-minded people has been enriching, empowering, and fun. I will take the skills I have learned and friendships that I have built to law school and to my future career.”
To learn more about the Summer Scholars program, please contact program assistant, Dana Waid: firstname.lastname@example.org.