Feb. 22 was just another day of school at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, except the students in attendance were high school students from around the Salt Lake Community. They were learning about what law school is like through participation in an annual program called “Passageways to the Law.”
The program is designed to introduce students from underrepresented communities to the various areas in the legal field that they could enter with a legal degree. According to a statement released by Melinda Rogers, communications director for S.J. Quinney College of Law, students “will learn more about careers in law as well as receive support and encouragement from University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law staff and faculty on how to pursue a higher education.” It was held in conjunction with “ Months: Diversity Outreach for High School and Early College Students,” a national campaign sponsored by the Law School Admissions Council, which encourages diverse students to discover career opportunities in law.
More than 100 students participated in Passageways to the Law this year — the largest number in the event’s 16-year history at the U’s College of Law. Over the course of the day, the large group of students attended a “typical” law class, engaged in a mock trial, conducted legal research for an assignment and learned about helpful resources that aid student success — including how to prepare for the LSAT. The students also participated in a scavenger hunt where they explored and learned about the S.J. Quinney College of Law building.
Isabel Moreno, associate director for admission and financial aid at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, has organized the event for many years and received planning support this year from Mary Royal, an admissions counselor at the S.J. Quinney College of Law.
Moreno defines underrepresented communities as encompassing “a variety of groups, but particularly those that are racially [and] ethnically diverse, as well as those that identify or self identify as members of the LGBTQ community.”
Passageways to the Law is intended to increase a stronger pool of diverse applicants for the U’s law school and further increase accessibility for students to pursue a legal education and eventually, a career in law. “By extension, the kind of ripple effect that this [program] has is that you will get a much more diverse presence and in all sectors of the legal community,” Moreno said, “Including the private sector, public sector, government sector and in the judicial [sector].”
Moreno especially highlights the importance of our judicial sector in reflecting our country’s diversifying society. She wants underrepresented students to understand how pursuing a career in law can and should be a realistic goal.
After a long day of learning about law school, Rachel Mortenson, a student from Nuames High School and a participant in the program, said that Passageways to the Law gave her and the group “a little window about what’s in store for us when we go to a law college.”
Mortenson is a first-generation half-Laotian American. Her family came from Laos to escape from the Vietnam War and her grandparents are illiterate. Mortenson said that her family’s history inspired her to attend Passageways to the Law because “it’s a great opportunity for me to be able to show my diverse cultural background.” She said that activities and discussions during the event addressed many questions that she had about entering the field of law.
Overall, both Moreno and Mortenson agree that understanding the importance of diversity in the field of law is essential.