LACBA in the Law School Classroom
Our minority law school scholarship fund is already making a difference for those in need
By Patricia M. Schnegg
Patricia M. Schnegg is president of the Association.
This President's Page was originally published in the September 1999 issue of Los Angeles Lawyer.
No one can question the fact that women and minorities have made significant strides in the legal profession during the last two decades. Neither can one question the fact that the number of minorities in the profession and in law schools is disappointingly low compared to the demographic makeup of our community. Last year, in an effort to help remedy this situation, Association President Lee Edmon approached the Minority Representation in the Legal Profession Committee with a new task. The stated purpose of the committee is to develop and implement policies and programs that will increase the minority representation in the legal profession at all levels. So it was appropriate for Lee to ask the committee, chaired by Ron Beard, to initiate a new fund-raising campaign that would provide scholarships for minority law students who, because of disadvantaged backgrounds, would be unable to continue their studies without additional financial assistance.
The Association took this step in response to the alarming decline in minority admissions at University of California law schools in the wake of the board of regents' resolution in 1995 that banned affirmative action programs in the university's admissions policies. Coupled with the passage of Proposition 209 the following year, the climate for minorities seeking admission became decidedly more chilly. The Association's minority scholarship program is, however, not limited to public law schools but instead encompasses students admitted to the five accredited law schools in Los Angeles County: UCLA, USC, Loyola, Pepperdine, and Southwestern.
Under Ron's able stewardship, the committee achieved a great success during the first year of its campaign. It raised more than $120,000 in scholarship funds, due in large measure to the generous support provided by local businesses and law firms, including the following:
- AT&T Wireless
- Breidenbach, Buckley, Huchting, Halm & Hamblet
- Roland L. Coleman Jr., Esq.
- Dewey Ballantine LLP
- Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
- Katten Muchin & Zavis
- Latham & Watkins
- McClintock, Weston, Benshoof, Rochefort, Rubalcava & MacCuish LLP
- McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen LLP
- McKenna & Cuneo LLP
- Morrison & Foerster LLP
- O'Melveny & Myers LLP
- Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP
- Marc M. Seltzer, Esq.
- Sempra Energy
- Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP
- Sidley & Austin
- Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
- Union Bank of California
- Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker
Anticipating this success, the Association, together with our local law schools, distributed scholarship application forms to minority students who needed financial assistance to continue their studies. The response was overwhelming. The Association received more than one hundred applications, and the review committee awarded a total of 24 scholarships, each in the amount of $5,000, for the 1999-2000 law school year.
As law school becomes a distant memory for many of us, we tend to forget those factors that motivated us to pursue the law as a career, and we also tend to forget how difficult it is for many to achieve that goal and the obstacles that must be overcome. The scholarship applications required a personal statement from those seeking the Association's assistance, and collectively they form a compelling reminder of just how difficult that journey can be. I would like to share with you the life histories of three of the Association's scholarship recipients.
A Tribute to Perseverance
One young scholarship recipient, a UCLA student, came to the United States in 1983 after escaping from Vietnam and spending two years in a refugee camp in Hong Kong; he was only seven years old. In his family's escape from Vietnam, his mother had to endure physical beatings until a group that was trying to escape allowed the family to board a small boat that was headed out to sea. This student's mother had never received more than the equivalent of an elementary school education in Vietnam, so cultural and language barriers made life in the United States very difficult for them. While his parents survived in low-paying jobs, this young man and his siblings were sent to school and received the education that was never available to his parents in Vietnam. From a very early age he dreamed of becoming a lawyer, and he is now on his way to achieving that goal.
Another recipient grew up in a predominantly agricultural community in a small town on the U.S. border near Mexico. While he was in high school his family life disintegrated due to his parents' increased dependency on drugs, primarily methamphetamine. The father became extremely paranoid-a common side effect of this drug-and accused his sons of spying on him for the police. Other times the father would wake family members in the middle of the night to tell them that assassins were on their way to kill them. In the middle of his junior year in high school, our recipient was forced to leave home. He spent the next few years living with friends or with an aunt who lived in a neighboring town. In spite of these chaotic conditions, this young man was able to graduate with his high school classmates. Eventually, his parents broke their addiction to drugs and are now sober.
He reports that he has learned two important lessons from his experience with his parents. First, perseverance through the toughest times builds strong moral character. Second, that no matter how far down an individual is socially, economically, or morally, he or she should be afforded every opportunity to find a way to turn his or her life around.
Finally, there is the recipient who was practically homeless after his mother and stepfather divorced when he was in the seventh grade. The family lacked even the basic necessities, and at age 14 this young man started working on construction jobs until, at age 16, he was able to secure a full-time position on a public works job. He had to buy his own clothes, school supplies, and the weekly groceries, but he got his schoolwork done.
In spite of his socioeconomic disadvantages and the poverty of the area where he lived, he decided to set goals and look beyond the streets-unlike many of his friends who believed that hardships were all that life offers. This young man went to college and is now a social studies teacher helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, that is not enough for him. He believes that the more one knows about a society's laws the more one will be able to understand that society. With an excellent track record, he is already busy setting new goals for himself, looking beyond law school to the time when he becomes a law school professor, his ultimate goal.
We all need to encourage and promote greater diversity in the legal profession. The stories of all our scholarship recipients are just as inspiring as these three. Often socioeconomic barriers can appear to foreclose the law as a career option; however, our recipients all demonstrate that this need not always be the case. A common theme found among our recipients is a belief that perseverance, dedication, and hard work will prevail. We want to congratulate all the scholarship recipients and wish them the best in their academic careers.