CLAS program prepares first-gen students for law school

The University of Iowa’s Law School Readiness Program narrows the information and financial resource gap for underrepresented and minority students considering law.
Tuesday, January 24, 2023

By Emily Delgado 

A strategic program initiative in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is exposing first-generation and underrepresented students to the demands of law school while supporting their career ambitions with one-on-one mentoring and key support.  

This spring, the Law School Readiness Program will have approximately 75 underrepresented-minority undergraduate students participate in two specially designed seminars where students will learn about the admissions process, academic preparation, curriculum, diversity in the profession, standards of professionalism, financial considerations, legal careers, and wellness.  

Maryam Mohammed
Maryam Mohammed

“It [the program] is really tailored to what affects minority and first-gen students, and really helps us get the resources we need to properly apply to law school,” Maryam Mohammed, a second-year student studying International Relations, says.   

The program is funded through private support for strategic program initiatives designed to increase academic quality and impact and is part of the college’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts to increase access and education for underrepresented students. 

Martha Kirby, a nationally recognized pre-law academic advisor in the UI Political Science department, directs the program and provides one-on-one advising to students. In her role, she provides guidance on tuition, GPA, and test scores ahead of the admissions process—which is challenging to navigate alone or with limited resources.  

Martha Kirby
Martha Kirby

“The program seeks to narrow the information and financial resource gap for our first-generation students so that they are equipped to make more informed decisions about their path to a legal education,” Kirby says.  

This spring, 30 students are participating in a second seminar that will help them compile their law school application materials while studying for the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT. Through a partnership with Kaplan, the program is providing students with live, online exam instruction at no cost to them, saving them up to $1,500 each.  

“The LSAT is a significant factor in law school admissions and the most important factor in law school scholarship opportunities,” Kirby says. “Our hope is that the program’s investment in these students’ LSAT preparation will result in a significant positive difference in the students’ acceptance rate and help to minimize the debt they incur.”  

In addition to the information presented in the seminar, students also are invited to attend an annual forum hosted by the national Law School Admission Council (LSAC) in Chicago. Last fall, 31 students were able to talk with representatives and financial aid officials from law schools across the country during the event.  

“Importantly, many now feel more confident that they can succeed in law school, learned more about the opportunities at different schools, and broadened their list of law schools to which they may apply,” Kirby explains. “The students overwhelmingly indicated that the forum was well worth it."  

Through the Law School Readiness Program, and mentorship by Kirby, Mohammed and her peers, have been introduced to law school professionals around the country, including at the UI College of Law, where faculty, staff, and students have been invaluable in preparing undergraduates for their professional journeys.  

Law remains one of the least diverse professions in the country, according to Kirby, but the Law School Readiness Program is making strides with UI students to help change that.  

The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers about 70 majors across the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. About 15,000 undergraduate and nearly 2,000 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by faculty at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all Iowa undergraduates through the college's general education program, CLAS CORE. About 80 percent of all Iowa undergraduates begin their academic journey in CLAS. The college confers about 60 percent of the university's bachelor's degrees each academic year.