02:19 AM

Institute with Ohio State roots helps students prepare before the rigors of college

A statewide legal preparation program helped Ohio State University graduate Ronald Birchfield learn how to be a lawyer. His passion led him in a different direction, but the program set him up for success.

Now an Ohio State alumnus, Birchfield also is a graduate of the Law and Leadership Institute, a statewide program supported by the legal community and state law schools. LLI enrolls high school-aged students from underserved communities and prepares them for a career in law.

“I was choosing between law and medicine,” Birchfield said. Medicine won out.

Birchfield is not going to law school at this time, but he credits LLI with helping prepare him to get the most out of his college career. He graduated earlier this month with a degree in nutrition science and will pursue a master’s degree in health care administration at the College of Public Health.

Kathy Northern, associate dean for admissions at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, has worked with the institute since it was founded in 2008.

“We had talked at the time of the importance of developing pipelines into the profession for students from under-resourced communities,” said Northern. “Too many young people in urban communities often have an unflattering view of the legal profession because of the ways family or friends have encountered the profession.”

Students participate in a four-year academic program while they are in high school. The course work focuses on law, leadership, writing, critical thinking and professionalism.

“Critical thinking skills are at the core of a legal career. But they are also at the core of being a citizen,” Northern said.

The program tests the students with mock trial experiences; creates opportunities for them to interact with lawyers and judges; and prepares them to take standardized tests. Northern and Moritz College of Law Dean Alan Michaels currently serve on the board of directors for the institute.

“The program is a rigorous one that requires a strong commitment on the part of the students,” according to Nancy Rogers, a former Moritz dean and former board member for the institute. “And the program has continued because of a strong commitment by the Moritz College and contributions from the broader legal community. Deans Michaels and Northern have never waivered in their support.”

Shyvonne Hoover, a second-year student majoring in hospitality management, said the institute prepared her for the rigors of college work.

“I think what helped me most was learning how to write papers and cite them. It also helped with study skills and learning good study habits,” Hoover said.

Like Birchfield, Hoover is not planning to become a lawyer at this time. She’s an entrepreneur at heart. In addition to being a student, Hoover created the event-planning company Extravagance on a Budget.

“Ultimately the goal of the program is to interest students in the legal profession,” Northern said. “People change their minds all the time, particularly when they are considering joining us as eighth-graders. We want them to appreciate the role of the legal system as an overall benefit.”

Both Birchfield and Hoover said they recommend the institute to high school-bound students.

“LLI helped me learn a lot not only about myself, but about law and the government,” Hoover said. “You learn so much more about the law that you don’t normally learn just watching it on television.”

Northern said it is common for the law instructors to get an education from their students as well.

“These are an amazing group of students,” Northern said “And in many ways, I’ve found that the law school teachers have learned more than the kids.”