Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Law school ‘boot camp’ gives future lawyers a head start

They came from around the country on their summer vacation to be worked almost to death.

And the more than 30 attendees at the American Bar Association’s Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO) summer program actually applied to be part of what many called a “boot camp” atmosphere, cramming months of legal knowledge into six weeks.

CLEO is aimed at helping a diverse field of students, including minorities, economically disadvantaged and non-traditional students returning to school after years away. It’s designed to sharpen their skills and prepare them as they enter law school in the fall.

The program, founded in the wake of the civil rights movement, held its first summer program at the University of Denver school of law in 1968. Forty years later, it returned to the Sturm College of Law after decades of being held at other law schools.

Sturm Dean José Juárez congratulated the students as they wrapped up their term July 25, noting that simply surviving the weeks of intense drilling should give them the confidence — and the knowledge base — they’ll need to get through their first year of law school, wherever they go.

“You have worked really, really hard, and you have passed the test,” he said. “You all are the future of the legal profession.”

“We’re talking about a boot camp,” said Wayne Fowler, a 44-year-old father from Texas who spent his first career as an engineer. “It’s not intended to be easy; it’s intended to force you into the structure you’re going to need when you get to law school. It’s not play.”

Another CLEO student, Omar Martinez, got terrific grades at the University of Florida, where he graduated this year with dual degrees in political science and sociology. But his law school entrance exams exposed a potential weakness. The recent emigrant from Cuba only learned to speak English five years ago, and his writing skills lag.

“I really wanted to come here to learn to write better, to learn the skills I’ll need in law school,” said the Indiana University-bound Martinez. “I’m the first one in my family to even go to college.”

Allana Forte-Branch, who worked as a teaching assistant this summer, went through CLEO last year after running her own office supply store in Barbados for seven years. She had decided to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer, but going back to school had her concerned.

“Law school is always a shock, but CLEO makes it less of a shock,” she said, fresh from completing her first year at Stetson Law School in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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