News - Capital University Law School

LLI Promotes Legal Professions to Underserved Teens

2/2/2021  - 

Hannah Botkin-Doty, L’13, was a second-year law school student when she decided to serve as an instructor for the Law and Leadership Institute, a program that promotes legal careers for high school students from underserved communities in Ohio.

“You know you really know something when you teach it,” says Botkin-Doty, who is now a hearing officer for the Unemployment Compensation Review Commission. She says teaching the students about constitutional law and criminal procedures made her a better student.

Botkin-Doty returned this past summer to teach once more and says the experience “renewed my fervor and passion” for law. “It’s one way I felt I could really live my law degree – to see clients succeed and to see students succeed.”

Executive Director Heather Creed says LLI began in 2008 following a Bench-Bar Conference to address diversity in the profession and was modeled after a similar program in New York called Legal Outreach. As part of the program, high school students attend classes at law schools across the state in Akron, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo. LLI is supported by nine Ohio law schools – including CapLaw – and significant annual financial support from the Ohio State Bar Foundation, the Supreme Court of Ohio, and many other funders. Student instructors and the high school students who attend each receive a small stipend.

“The initial impetus was a means of diversifying the profession by offering opportunities to students who otherwise might not have them,” Creed says. The program begins when the students are freshmen. Creed says, “Why we start so early is because if we wait, we risk losing them. Ohio ties for the sixth lowest graduation rate for black students in the country.”

Throughout the four-year program, LLI students are introduced to the legal system, take field trips to law-related venues, compete in mock trials, take part in internships, research Supreme Court decisions and participate in a moot court competition. Along the way, they attend presentations by attorneys and other legal experts, and can be matched with a mentor.

LLI celebrated its first two law school graduates this spring – from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and the University of Akron Law School. Currently, four LLI graduates are attending Duke, Georgetown, University of Dayton and OSU law schools. Ninety-two percent of program participants have gone on to attend college and another 4 percent enlisted in the Armed Forces. Graduates of LLI currently are enrolled as undergraduates at 87 colleges across the country, including Capital University.

“Even if they don’t choose law school,” Creed says, “we consider it definitely a win, regardless of what their career path is.”

Lisa Eschleman, L’87, is an LLI founding board member and CapLaw adjunct professor who recently retired as executive director of the Ohio Center for Law Related Education. She was invited by former Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer to be a member of the first board of directors where she served two terms and then returned to the board again in 2018. She is one of the program’s biggest advocates and says LLI is the only statewide program like it in the country.

“What a fabulous partnership,” she says. “For the LLI students – the fact that they can sit in the law school building and the law school classrooms – it immediately lets them begin to see what’s possible. I think the law students who have been successful from underserved communities are drawn to serve. They understand the challenges and what it takes to be successful.”

She also acknowledges the benefits for law school students who serve as instructors. “They gain such an appreciation for the challenges of high school students from underserved communities,” Eschleman says. “They leave with more empathy, more compassion and more understanding. What more do you want for a law student than that? This program is critical to our profession.”

Botkin-Doty believes it helps the LLI students by identifying with those who are instructors. “You can’t be anybody you can’t see,” she says. “I think it’s invaluable for the community. It brought joy as an alumnus seeing the kids really shine and come into their full potential.”

Lindsay Ford Ellis, L’07, an LLI board member and assistant general counsel for OhioHealth, agrees, “It gives law students an opportunity to engage and help build a pipeline. For so many of the LLI students, when you can actually see and touch someone who looks like you – the law students – it gives you purpose and hope. It showcases that they can do it.”

Eschleman applauds CapLaw for being a part of the program since its inception. Today, the program is housed in the law school building. “It puts the organization – the staff closer to law students,” she says. “It certainly strengthens the relationship between the law school and LLI.”

Creed says the need for that relationship was magnified this year by the effects of the pandemic. “So many of our students did not have access to technology or at-home support,” she says. “We recognized how important it was to have our support.”

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio provided a grant to purchase computers for some of the students who did not have access to one.

For Ellis, the program is essential, especially now. “Our program is so critical with all the shifts in education, the pandemic and social injustice – this program hits on all those things. It builds a pipeline for diversifying the profession.”

Eschleman concurs: “We recognize – especially that racial injustice and disparity based on economic factors continues to be an issue – it’s essential we close or address that issue.”

For more information on the program, visit the Law & Leadership Institute website by clicking here.