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August 06, 2021 Feature Article

Re-Imagining Legal Education—the Crucial Role of Pipeline Programs

Jo Ann Engelhardt
The crucial role of pipeline programs.

The crucial role of pipeline programs.


As lawyers and members of society we recognize the importance of being able to attend and succeed in law school. The goal of equity and inclusion in the legal system requires diverse representation in law school which leads to diverse representation in the legal profession. We are at a critical point in time where the pandemic has further crystallized how historically marginalized communities are disparately impacted by individual and systemic racism and oppression. Pipeline programs are essential to help ensure that students already on the margins do not fall out of the pipeline. 

To focus on these critical issues, the Council for Diversity in the Educational Pipeline; Just the Beginning – A Pipeline Organization; StreetLaw, Inc; Law School Admissions Council; and Loyola University Chicago School of Law have partnered to present a ten-part series of collaborative programming. Each session includes an opportunity for attendees to learn and share with the goal of strengthening the educational pipeline into the legal profession. The series is Co-Sponsored by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions.

The series began in January 2021 and will continue through October, with each monthly program focusing on a different aspect of the pipeline. Programs include: Pipeline Programs in a Pandemic: Access, Hurdles, and Innovations; Re-Imagining K-12 Pipeline Programs: Early Exposure MattersExperiences in Building an LGBTQ+ Pipeline; Intersectionality: An Innovative Lens for Understanding the Challenges Faced by Disabled Students; and will conclude with Young People Speak – a chance to hear from students who hope to attend law school and to understand the challenges they face.

Each program features qualified and experienced panelists who represent programs from around the country and represent varied constituencies from k-12 pipeline programs, post-secondary to law school programs, law school facilitated programs, and specialty programs such as the American Indian Law Center Pre- Law School Institute. The programs are presented in a workshop format with a combination of formal presentations and breakout small group discussion. This format encourages robust discussion and sharing of information and resources by session attendees.

To provide readers of The Innovator a flavor of how these sessions unfold and the quality of the programs, this article will highlight Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Dean and Professor of Law, Boston University College of Law, who was the keynote speaker at the first program: Re-Imagining Legal Education: Courage, Conviction and Commitment. As one of five Black women law deans who started the Law Deans Antiracist Clearinghouse Project website, Dean Onwuachi-Willig is a powerful advocate for creating anti-racist law school curricula. With support from the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), the website provides resources to help colleagues, students, and the public learn about race and the law, promotes dialogue within and among law schools and their faculty, and encourages law school leader accountability for bringing about antiracist reform. 

One issue that has arisen repeatedly during our nation’s reckoning with its history of racial injustice is how to address the interest of white individuals, and students especially, in learning more. Often the first response is to turn to a Black classmate or teacher to explain his or her experience. That can be draining and can spark resentment. The Clearninghouse website is a resource to address these needs. Onwuachi-Willig states that “I’m an educator. I’ve chosen to do that. But our students haven’t chosen to do that. We wanted to say, ‘Here are these resources and part of what it means to be antiracist is not to further burden people of color, and particularly not students and junior faculty of color.’” 

Despite being the first Black woman dean of a Top 20 law school, Dean Onwuachi-Willig is disarmingly modest. In writing to the student body after the killing of George Floyd, she stated: “Perhaps surprising to some of you, racism regularly disempowers the seemingly powerful dean.”

The opening session was moderated by Fe LopezGaetke, Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion & Operations for Law School Admissions Council, with remarks by ABA President Patricia Refo, President-Elect Reginald Turner, and Cal Gonzales, Chair of the Council for Diversity in the Educational Pipeline. Cal is a recognized leader in the diversity space, having served as a member of the ABA’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession as well as numerous diversity-focused programs in his home state of California.

We encourage everyone interested in the future of diversity in our schools and for our young people to register for the remaining programs. You can view the inaugural presentation or register on the series website.

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Jo Ann Engelhardt


Jo Ann Engelhardt is a member of the ABA Council for Diversity in the Educational Pipeline