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Joseph F. Rice School of Law

  • 2024 Middle School Pipeline

Middle School Pipeline program engages young learners with the value of law

Last summer, staff and faculty at the University of South Carolina Joseph F. Rice School of Law met to revive the Middle School Pipeline program, designed to provide support and mentorship for marginalized and minoritized students and help them envision a clear path to law school. 

“My cousin Joann [Brown] is a counselor at Hopkins Middle School, and said the students hated when the program went away,” says Carol Mitchell, director of development, who was instrumental in bringing the program back. “I always told her I’ll see what I can do. Then it was about finding the right people at the right time.”  

The right people were David Mahatha, PhD, director of Inclusive Excellence, who coordinated the months-long program, and Professor Cassandra Havard and Jan Baker, legal writing instructor and director of the Konduros Leadership Development Program, who developed the curriculum. 

One of the ways program developers differentiated the Middle School Pipeline program from existing pipeline programs like the SC Bar’s High School Mock Trial Program (HSMT) was through the curriculum, which demonstrated how to apply the law and analyze cases.  

“We wanted students to understand how litigation is built,” says Baker, who also used to judge for HSMT. “What we gave them was very similar to what we do with our first-year law students.” 

Professors and law student mentors taught the middle school students the basics of the law and how a courtroom operates, then Baker staged a bank robbery with faculty and staff to create a fact pattern. From there, the students learned how to analyze the case facts and the relevant law in language they would understand.  

“We just want to get them interested and give them a chance to experience this,” Baker says. “It was rewarding to watch that development, to see them experience that start to finish.”  

In February, the middle school students participated in the penultimate event of the Middle School Pipeline program, the trial, held in the historic Karen J. Williams Courtroom. There, the students shared what they learned with their parents and educators, playing every role in the courtroom excluding the jury, which was comprised of students’ family members. 

“They all showed up dressed up – we didn't even ask them to do that – and they looked great. It was just so fun,” Baker says, recalling students like the 7th grader randomly selected as trial judge who arrived in his mom’s graduation gown. “It was just wonderful to watch them invest and to see them really get involved.”  

Second year law student Aneesha Johnson hopes the program continues so she can participate as a law student mentor again, or maybe even as a future guest speaker, and underscores the importance of pipeline programs.  

“Only five percent of attorneys in this country are Black, I think it's around three percent of attorneys in this country are Latinx,” Johnson says. “If I had been exposed to a program like this when I was younger, I think it would have removed a lot of the questioning and self-doubt that I had.” 

That sense of belonging is a large part of the reason the Office of Inclusive Excellence at the USC Rice School of Law created the Bridge to Law Programs, which includes the Middle School Pipeline program. 

“I’m glad we did it and I hope we'll be able to sustain it,” Baker says. “It was a valuable enough experience that I am certainly willing to continue to try and recruit people to help do it again, hopefully.” 

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