Undergrad and High School Students Explore the Law in Successful Launch of Summer Legal Academy

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The University of Miami School of Law’s free online summer legal academy, with tracks for high school and college students, exceeded expectations.

Nearly 5,000 students applied for 140 spots; the 68 seniors, 63 juniors, and nine sophomores were from 27 states, districts, and territories. Of the 74 undergraduate schools represented, 61% were women, 45% identified as Black/African American, 54% identified as Hispanic/Latinx, and 44% were first generation college students.

Pipeline Program for Students Interested in Law

The academy was designed as an opportunity for hardworking and committed students who are considering law school or are curious about areas that are impacted by law, such as business, real estate, criminal justice, immigration, innovation, voting rights, health access, to learn about the law, as well as potential careers in law.

The program was formulated by Professor Charlton Copeland, who teaches constitutional law, civil procedure and other first-year and upper-level courses, and Greg Levy, associate dean of Law Academic & Student Services and Strategic Initiatives, in hopes to provide students in both groups the opportunity to broaden their understanding of law school.

“I have always thought that we should have a pipeline program for students, especially those who might not have other opportunities to learn about the law,” said Copeland. “But the program I had envisioned included, at the very least, in-person classes and classroom space, and lunch. The costs of such an endeavor even in the summer, when classrooms are used for other revenue-generating efforts, is not negligible.

“The pandemic has taken that ‘ideal’ off the table, and has allowed us to serve an even larger group of students than we could have, without very many geographic restrictions. Under those circumstances, the hurdles simply disappeared. We have also been aided by a talented and committed professional and administrative staff at Miami Law, the generosity of professors at Miami and other law schools across the country, who have volunteered their time to teach, and legal professionals, who have made time to speak to the students about a wide variety of things, and have opened themselves to the students' questions,” Copeland said.

Academic Courses and Experiential Opportunities

The students participated in four classes: torts, criminal law, contracts, and constitutional law; and additionally, work closely with current Dean’s Fellows in small groups to acclimate to reading cases and class preparation. Options included participation in moot and a choice of electives, including immigration, sports and entertainment, technology and innovation.

“As a current architecture student, the Summer Legal Academy gave me the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of, not only the legal field in itself, but also why transitioning into it would be the right option for me,” said Taimaisú Ferrer Sin, a senior at Cornell University. “After hearing from distinguished alumni about their paths to success in law, taking classes with passionate professors who are experts in their fields, and engaging in meaningful discussions with students from around the country, I can wholeheartedly say that the Summer Legal Academy has been an invaluable opportunity,” she said.

Important issues were covered such as the limits on the government’s authority to impose rules and regulations on private citizens; when accidental or intentional injury constitute the basis for compensation; and does public opinion impact the criminalization or decriminalization of certain conduct. And while law and lawyers continue to play an important role in shaping how societies are ordered, the study of law remains a central component of a democratic society.

The academy included a twice-weekly roundtable discussion with industry leaders, weekly sessions with lawyers who are agents of change, admission and financial aid information session, as well as weekly meetings with mentors. Students who satisfactorily completed the course received a certification.

“My experience throughout this program was extremely enlightening. I have been able to expand my knowledge about the many different career paths and opportunities that I can take after attending law school. This program presented me with the necessary tools and skills to be a successful student upon entering law school as well,” said Cameron Thomas, a senior at Morehouse College.

“I am very grateful to Professor Copeland and Associate Dean Levy for launching our Summer Legal Academy in such an innovative manner,” said Anthony E. Varona, dean and M. Minnette Massey Professor of Law. “That the program attracted so many thousands of applications from across the nation, as well as the active and thoughtful involvement of an all-star lineup of instructors and speakers, speaks to the importance of pipeline initiatives such as this one. The rich diversity of the Summer Legal Academy are a source of great pride for us and very much aligned with Miami Law’s rich social justice traditions.”

Copeland says that the students were incredible. “I have taught on both the high school and college sides of the programs, and was impressed by their thoughtfulness, maturity, and intellectual ability. And anyone who was lucky enough to see them interact with our guests could not help but be inspired at what our future entails if these folks decide to attend law school. Even if they do not, if they are representative of their generation, we are in great hands.

“I think we have an opportunity to make an important contribution in using available technology to develop a bigger pipeline to law school. Other schools have contacted us about interest in expanding on what we have done this summer,” said Copeland. “We look forward to evaluating the program's strengths and weaknesses, as we try to move forward. I sincerely hope that we can build on this success for next summer, and beyond.”

More on the Summer Legal Academy for High School Students
More on the Summer Legal Academy for Undergraduate Students