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To Going First

Danielle J. Hall and David Jessup


  • FirstGen5’s mission is to build a community where first-generation law school students are able to share their experiences, provide advice they learned through their journey, and support first-generation law students who are up next.
  • Read an interview with founders Danielle Hall and Davis Jessup, in which they describe the organization's purpose, their experiences as first-generation law students, and their advice for the next generation of first-gen law students.
To Going First
Olelole via Getty Images

Danielle Hall, a first-generation college and law student, earned a bachelor of science degree in psychology and a minor in social and economic justice from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She currently attends the University of Miami School of Law.

David Jessup, Jr., a first-generation law student, is an alumnus of the Judicial Intern Opportunity Program (JIOP) who currently attends the University of Miami School of Law. Prior to law school, David attended the University of Central Florida for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees before working for Teach for America and Digi-Bridge, a nonprofit committed to eliminating the digital divide.

FirstGen5, a platform where the first-generation community can support each other and demystify the law school process together, is a resource Danielle and David built to level the playing field for first-generation law students. Both Danielle and David have a strong desire to help first-generation law students and others who may be considering law school. Their experiences prior to law school shaped the path that led to FirstGen5’s development.

For Danielle, studying abroad in Manchester, United Kingdom, during her undergraduate years sparked her passion for the law. She also developed an interest in working with students and guiding them in their career progression as a college advisor in Dallas, Texas, where she assisted more than 200 low-income, diverse high school seniors with the college application process. David developed his passion through his journey as an educator, government consultant, and nonprofit founder. He parlayed his education in nonprofit management to create and grow organizations like FirstGen5, both domestically and internationally. Melding their passions together, David and Danielle are closing the gap faced by first-generation law students looking for guidance and opportunities.

What is FirstGen5’s purpose and what inspired its creation?

FirstGen5’s purpose is to connect first-generation law school students with resources, support, and, perhaps most importantly, each other. We hope FirstGen5 will be the first stop for those in the legal profession who have decided to “go first.”

Our insufficient wardrobes inspired the creation of FirstGen5. No, seriously! One evening as we were leaving campus, we both received an email confirming our attendance at an upcoming networking event. Having already cycled through our business professional clothing options that week—and knowing we would be shaking the hands of familiar faces at the event—the race was on to find sensible clothing options for the affair.

After devising a plan to squeeze in a trip to the mall, one of us mentioned that it felt like there was a handbook somewhere that we had never received. Over the course of our 1L year, we would often meet informally after class or exchange text messages to share the “secrets” we were learning. Even in our 2L year, we are still meeting (remotely) and exchanging texts as we attempt to demystify this process for ourselves.

What makes the experience of a first-generation law school student or attorney unique?

What we know from our own experiences, and what we are learning from members of the FirstGen5 community, is that first-generation law school students and attorneys face unique challenges the minute they begin considering a legal education.

While research on the first-generation law school student experience is scant, we do know that first-generation college students generally borrow more money to finance their education, are statistically older, and are less affluent. In their 2018 article, “First-Generation Students in Law School: A Proven Success Model,” Jacqueline M. O’Bryant and Katharine Traylor Schaffzin identified these common traits among first-generation law students and first-generation college students.

Further, we sense that first-generation law school students and lawyers initially lack the social capital afforded to those who grew up sitting down for dinner with a judge or a paralegal each evening. These relationships are powerful, providing guidance, support, and a fountain of opportunities that first-generation law school students and lawyers have to cultivate while juggling the typical demands of the field.

First-generation law school students lack the guidance that comes in the form of access to pre-law resources, assistance through coveted email introductions, support while preparing application materials, and honest and relevant feedback as it relates to their responses to mock interview questions. These general safety nets are typically reserved for those who grew up surrounded by legal professionals.

When a judge or lawyer mentions a notable public figure in the legal community, and you find yourself heading to the restroom to google his or her biography while everyone else adds their two cents about his or her esteemed career, you are quickly reminded of your first-generation status.

Of course, every first-generation law school student’s experience is different. The FirstGen5 movement hopes to capture the stories and experiences of first-generation law school students while sourcing the best tips to help level the playing field.

What advice would you give to a first-generation law student or attorney?

Subscribe to’s blog and follow us on social media @ firstgen_5, of course! Once you checked that off your to-do list, build relationships.

Whether you are taking a campus tour or it is your first day at a new firm, get to know the people in the room. Lean into opportunities that offer you a chance to give back. Vocalize your goals and help others achieve theirs. We are both of the mind-set that people want to help. Ask for help when you need it.

This brings us to another important piece of advice, especially for first-generation law school students: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Raise your hand when you do not understand a concept. Visit your professors during office hours. Attend information sessions about an opportunity that piques your interest, even if you cannot find a classmate to join you. Know that the discomfort you feel is part of your growth both personally and professionally. Since we are on the topic of discomfort, it is worth noting that our blog post entitled Exam Season offers a few tips on how to make the experience of preparing for and acing exams a bit less daunting.

What resources would you recommend to a potential or incoming first-generation law student?

Do your research. Before law school, take the time to examine your options. Ask to sit in on a class. Speak with current students. Understand your anticipated financial needs. Read a book to familiarize yourself with the law school experience. Identify opportunities that offer exposure to a legal setting. Find a mentor. Consider observing a trial.

Once you arrive on campus, continue your research. Familiarize yourself with faculty and support staff members. Meet with your professors and learn their preferred exam structure. Know the key players in the legal community and consider how you can support causes that matter to them. Pinpoint organizations that offer seminars and resources to prepare you for your summer internship and beyond.

Our school offers us myriad subscriptions to digital and print resources that provide both academic support and general news. Before you buy a recommended supplement or subscribe to an online database, reach out to a faculty member or connect with peers to learn what is available.

Most importantly, seek out those resources that serve you in mind and body. Find your gym, locate your house of worship, schedule counseling sessions, and make sure you are actively building your tribe locally, as they will be your greatest resource.

What can law students, attorneys, professors, and others do to support first-generation law students and attorneys?

Do not assume. Extend grace. Offer your stories of both successes and setbacks.

You will always have that professor who at the very beginning of the semester pauses to frame his or her course or the general legal landscape. As we were in the same section our 1L year, we have often reflected on our experience with that one professor who stopped the class to explain the basic steps of the adversary process (the professor went as far as to explain the difference between the plaintiff and the defendant). Some might roll their eyes, but this was incredibly helpful. Not only did the professor fill in important gaps in our knowledge; the professor also signaled that this was a safe space where we could ask questions without fear of consequence. Conversely, you will find those professors who do not create such a hospitable environment and you can show empathy and support for students in those situations.

Law school students, in general, are challenged to find new ways to learn and unlearn a tremendous amount of material in a short period of time. The enormity of the challenge can be exacerbated for first-generation law school students who may not know exactly how to allocate their time initially. We may forget to address a judge as “Your Honor” or we may commit another legal faux pas unintentionally. Extend grace and offer feedback where appropriate.

Share honestly. What was it like to juggle both moot court and law review? How did you navigate holidays when you were under tremendous stress with exams waiting for you on the other side of the weekend? How did you feel when you received your first B−? Thank you, Justice Kagan. What worked well for you? What did not?


FirstGen5’s mission is to build a community where first-generation law school students are able to share their experiences, provide advice they learned through their journey, and support first-generation law students who are up next. Let us all rally around the next generation of first-generation law school students. Let us level the playing field as much as possible. Let us encourage others to “go first.”