Journey to JD Program Empowers High School Students to Pursue Law
For one week this summer, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law hosted 20 rising high school juniors who immersed themselves in the legal profession. Through the Journey to JD (J2JD) program, founded by the Center for Legal Inclusiveness (CLI), this diverse range of students gained a basic understanding of the legal system and were empowered to explore a career in law.
This unique opportunity is the brainchild of Karen Hester, CEO of the CLI. She previously implemented a similar program in Kansas and brought it with her here to Denver.
Hester created the program to address the lack of diversity in the legal profession. She wanted young people to get a chance to learn basic of legal concepts, meet legal professionals and learn how a legal education could be a part their future.
“If we can get young people with an interest in law, show them what they can do and that they can do it, and they see people that are similar to them, so they realize that it is not impossible to do, then we are that much closer to reaching our goal of having a diverse profession,” Hester said.
Immersive Legal Learning
J2JD is aimed at incoming high school juniors from a wide range of backgrounds and hometowns across the state who have an interest in law.
“I thought that law wasn’t for everybody, and definitely, this program helped me view that it is,” said J2JD participant Stacy Pineda, student at Atlas Preparatory School, Colorado Springs.
The program was meticulously designed to be a focused, as well as activity- and education-packed, week that engaged students from start to finish.
“It’s a really rich, concentrated opportunity. It would be hard to imagine a week that had more opportunities and more content packed into it,” said Denver Law Associate Professor Rebecca Aviel, who served as the professor for the program.
This year, students spent mornings learning law from Aviel, studying materials that the associate professor uses in her first-year law student classes.
“These are high school students getting law school materials,” Aviel related, adding the curriculum focused on substantive principles of the legal system, building analytical skills that lawyers need and gaining insight into the everyday life of someone who has a law degree.
In the afternoons, the class headed out on field trips to Denver where they met legal professionals, including politicians with a J.D. degree, a Colorado Supreme Court Justice and more.
“Students were really able to see how these two spheres hold together: What it is that lawyers learn in the classroom and how these lawyers take that out into the world and do the kind of work that they want to do,” said Aviel.
For students, it exposed them to the wide array of career doors that open for those with a J.D. degree.
“We talked to a lot of different types of attorneys, so it was really interesting, and I really enjoyed getting to learn how broad the spectrum of careers can be,” said J2JD participant Joslyn Hays, a Gunnison High School student.
Students emphasized the value of these opportunities to connect with members of Denver’s legal profession “I would recommend this program because it’s such an incredible learning experience, along with the relationships you make. A crucial part of being a lawyer is the networking you have with other people, and this program gives you the best of both worlds,” related participant Imari Hicks, DSST Stapleton High School in Denver. The evening events, such as rock climbing at the Ritchie Center, bowling downtown and a scavenger hunt with attorneys, gave students a chance to explore Denver and experience the kind of work-life balance that is essential to sustainable careers in the legal field.
In all, the week-long program offered students a chance to fully immerse themselves in the law and foster a love of higher education. And Aviel hopes that it will also make students feel like part of the DU community. “I would love to have you come to the University of Denver and get that chance to discover if law is right for you, and even if it’s not, we hope that you’d then go off into the world with an invigorated sense of discovery,” said Aviel.
The program was possible thanks to partnership between CLI, Denver Law and several generous sponsors.
“The partnership with DU has been so critical to the success of the program. DU has been a major player in all of this, from the planning phase to implementation,” Hester said.
In addition, J2JD was funded almost entirely through donations, so the students did not pay anything other than a small deposit.
“The community here in Denver has been so supportive,” Hester said, adding that anyone is welcome to get involved and help the program grow. “We welcome you to be part of the J2JD program,” said Hester. “There’s so many ways you can get involved, from volunteering time to spreading the word. This is just the first step of many, and we can’t do it without you.”
If you or an incoming high-school sophomore you know would be interested in this immersive J2JD opportunity, please visit https://centerforlegalinclusiveness.org/journey-to-jd/.
Check out more about the program by watching the video below!