For young people with no family connections to the legal profession — or those from underserved communities — the idea of becoming a lawyer might seem far-fetched or impossible. It might not even be on a talented high school student’s mind at all.

But through the Future-L program, a collaboration between Harvard Law School and the National Education Equity Lab, more gifted young people around the country are learning about the law, the legal profession — and how they could be part of it.

“I am delighted to celebrate another year of our Future-L program,” says John F. Manning ’85, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor of Law. “By introducing promising young students from around the country to the law and the American legal system, Future-L aspires to bring into this important profession a new generation of young people with a wide array of lived experiences and to make legal education attainable for students from every background.”

This past summer, 118 students from 21 states and 93 high schools participated in the program, which featured lectures by Harvard Law professors on the legal system and courts, the basics of the law and the legal profession, and what it’s like to work as a lawyer. The curriculum is based on Harvard’s Zero-L course for incoming law students, one of a suite of innovative educational tools offered by the law school.

“I am so grateful to celebrate a successful third year of our Future-L program,” says Leah Plunkett ’06, associate dean for Learning Experience and Innovation and Meyer Research Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School. “I’m proud that Harvard Law continues to pilot innovative approaches in online learning and community building to ensure that legal education and the legal profession reflect the diversity of our country.”

Future-L is run by Harvard Law and the National Education Equity Lab, an education justice nonprofit that brings college credit-bearing courses from top universities into historically underserved high schools. Since its founding in 2019, the Lab has served more than 11,000 high school students across the U.S., seeking to empower young scholars to advance their skills through higher education.

“Many law schools talk about opening the pipeline into the legal profession — and to have more diverse talent in our classrooms, courtrooms, and boardrooms — but too few are taking concrete steps to make that happen,” says Leslie Cornfeld ’85, founder and CEO of the National Education Equity Lab. “I am proud that my alma mater is taking those action steps to expose scholars to the legal profession early on, and making it clear that they are needed and belong in top law schools across the nation.”

The Future-L program is one way in which Harvard Law and Cornfeld’s organization hope to nurture a diversity of talent and invest in the next generation of world-class lawyers. In addition to the program’s educational component, students also heard from special guests, who spoke about their own journeys as first generation or underrepresented law students, and shared their stories of perseverance and success. The learners also participated in small group discussions led by Harvard Law students to debate the things they learned in their classes.

“As first gen student myself, I remembered how much law school felt like landing on another planet and trying to adapt to a completely new atmosphere,” says I. Glenn Cohen ’03, the James A. Attwood and Leslie Williams Professor of Law at Harvard. “I am so excited we are able to help the next generation to make that transition a little easier.”

According to a post-program survey, Future-L’s impact on participants is almost unanimous: nearly 100 percent of learners agreed that the program should be offered at their high school. Ninety-three percent of the cohort reported that the course made them interested in pursuing a legal career, and nearly 80 percent said the program introduced them to concepts and ideas that they would think about long after the summer was over.

“Taking Future-L was positive for me personally because it was the first course I participated in purely for educational value. It was fun learning about law and getting a peek of the subjects covered in law school,” says Abigail Cadet, a rising senior at Science, Technology, and Research Early College High School at Erasmus, Brooklyn, NY. Cadet added that the course helped her improve her self-accountability and time management skills and pushed her out of her comfort zone — in a good way.

“[Future-L] helped remind me there isn’t just one set way to be a lawyer and there are a lot of people without access to good representation,” one learner wrote. “It made me want to go to law school and help people get the representation they need.”

Ira Sharma, another scholar, agrees. “I’ve never gotten a complete explanation of our legal system the way I did with Future-L,” says Sharma. “I was thrilled to learn more deeply about the relationship between our legal history, the Constitution, federal and state law, and how attorneys represent a variety of clients to accomplish a variety of goals. This in-depth understanding of government has helped me feel a lot more prepared for the real world and has inspired me to dig deeper into the legal profession.”

Another student wrote in their evaluation that the program opened their eyes to a career in law. “This course helped remind me there isn’t just one set way to be a lawyer, and there are a lot of people without access to good representation. It made me want to go to law school and help people get the representation they need.”

And a fourth student indicated that meeting Harvard Law professors — particularly those who had been first generation law students themselves — had inspired them to dream big. “The course impacted me both personally and professionally,” they wrote. “Hearing from Harvard Law faculty opened my eyes to the fact that first gen students can succeed. I now feel confident to pursue the law, so thank you!”

The young scholars were not the only ones who benefitted from the program. “I am so thrilled to see these amazing scholars engage with Future-L,” says Kristi Jobson ’12, Harvard Law’s assistant dean for admissions. “We cannot wait to read their applications in a few years.”

For the learners themselves, Future-L was a crucial introduction to a potential career they may not have considered — and a good way to make a difference in the world.

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