Before they even step foot on campus, some law students are already behind.
Students from underrepresented backgrounds often lack the resources, experience, and support from which some classmates may benefit. In the case of those with family members working in the legal field, that early exposure often translates to greater familiarity with the law and possible careers.
“As a first-generation lawyer myself, I understand the gap in knowledge that some of our students experience,” says Elizabeth Crane, Director of Career & Professional Development. “There is a foundational knowledge of the practice of law and how the judiciary functions that must be bridged for students to truly understand the profession and, subsequently, determine their individual career goals.”
To bridge these gaps, Crane established the Judicial Scholars Program, a nine-week, full-time paid judicial internship for 1Ls from underrepresented backgrounds. As part of the program, students spend three weeks each in the South Carolina Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Circuit Court. They piloted the program with one student in 2022 and in 2023, they were able to offer internships to three students.
“On my first day in chambers, Judge [John] Geathers at the Court of Appeals allotted time to discuss my specific goals for the program to make sure I had a fulfilling experience,” says 2L Jay Slappy. “The entire chambers welcomed me with open arms.”
In addition to connecting students with mentors, the internship exposes students to a variety of practice areas, informing their decisions as they pursue their legal education.
“When I started law school, I was interested in so many fields. The Judicial Scholars Program helped me realize pretty quickly that I didn’t like those fields at all,” says 2L Shontée Gathers. “Coming out of Judicial Scholars, I know for a fact that I want to do juvenile defense and family court.”
The Judicial Scholars Program also opens students' eyes to careers they may not have previously been aware of and encourages them to continue if they’ve begun to question whether law school is the right fit for them.
"I am kind of an introvert, something that had made me a bit worried about going into law. The environment at the Court of Appeals made me feel right at home as someone who loves to research and write,” says 2L Kelly Simmons. “I never really saw myself working as a law clerk or a staff attorney, but I am a lot more open to it after seeing the work they do in person.”
Going into their 2L year, these students have a broader knowledge of what aspects of the law they most enjoy and a clearer path to achieving their goals.
“Judicial Scholars is a valuable experience where students can gain a deeper connection to and understanding of the profession and the law,” Crane says, “no matter what practice area they ultimately wish to pursue.”