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Law Schools Are Reaching Out to Minorities in Elementary School

CLEVELAND, Ohio, AP, July 3, 2005 -- Facing stagnantly low numbers of minorities in their ranks, law schools across the country are reaching out to minority students at a younger age; some are even starting programs aimed at elementary schoolers.

Between 2000 and 2004, the number of minority law school students hovered around 21 percent. And only about 10 percent of practicing attorneys are minorities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Case Western Reserve University School of Law is among those trying to flesh out its minority ranks. The school just wrapped up a two-week summer legal academy for high school students.

"Historically, the legal profession has lacked minorities of all kinds in its early days. It was an all-white-man profession," said Barbara Greenberg, executive director of the Cuyahoga County Bar Association, which collaborated with Case in organizing the academy. "The fact is that we have a diverse population of people going through the legal system and we need good, diverse attorneys to help them."

Some say the dearth of minority legal professionals negatively affects the nation's leadership because of the high number of lawmakers who come from the ranks of the American Bar Association, which is 89 percent white. The association's members comprise virtually all of the nation's judges, more than half of U.S. senators, nearly half of governors, a third of U.S. representatives and about a fifth of state legislators.

"The perception is that the fairness brought to bear on issues is limited because of the people at the table," said Sarah Redfield, visiting faculty member at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, Calif.

Redfield coordinates the Pipeline Project at McGeorge. The 30-college consortium aims to improve the intellectual ability and civic engagement of minority elementary school students, which could increase the number of qualified minority law school applicants.

The University of Akron School of Law in 2002 started Camp Law School, which brings lawyers, police officers and judges to students already spending their summer at other camps.

Shirley Simon, who heads Camp Law School, made weekly visits to predominantly black Schumacher Academy this school year, teaching fourth- and fifth-graders about the law. She said the early exposure lets children understand what they need to do to become a lawyer.

Amber Stinnett, a student at Shaw High School in East Cleveland, attended the Case Western program this summer in hopes of fulfilling her dream of becoming a lawyer. The 17-year-old says she wants to be an advocate for children.

"Being a lawyer gives you a higher voice," she said. "You can make things happen when you are a lawyer."