Pipeline programs are designed to help historically underrepresented students successfully matriculate to law school and the profession. There are many possible programmatic approaches to pursuing this goal, and it is often difficult for program administrators to identify the most effective program content.
While law school tours, mentoring, law school courses, shadowing and internship opportunities, LSAT prep, law school admission counseling, and mock trial competitions may all be great ways to support students, it is probably impossible, not to mention inefficient, to offer all of these experiences through a single program. Pipeline programming should be focused and purposeful. Program administrators should develop tangible program goals that are tied to clear conceptions of whom their program will target. It is only then that effective and efficient program content can be designed.
Our research brief, Priming the Pump: How Pipeline Programs Seek to Enhance Legal Education Diversity, provides an overview of pipeline programs targeting college students and graduates nationwide. Unsurprisingly, these programs most commonly engaged participants from underrepresented racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Mentoring and truncated law school courses were among the most common program elements.
Surprisingly, this research also found that – despite law schools’ emphasis on LSAT scores in the admissions process – only a handful of pipeline programs offered extensive LSAT preparation. If the ultimate goal for many pipeline programs is to help underrepresented students successfully matriculate to law school, it seems that LSAT prep should be a central component of programming. Other potentially useful programmatic elements include law school admission counseling and financial education. The determination of program content should be driven by the target participants and tangible program goals. For example, LSAT prep and admission counseling would be less important for a pipeline program aimed at high school students. In addition, it may also be helpful to build an historical or institutional understanding of the barriers or areas of weakness that have impacted students in the past to further refine the pipeline programming.
For pipeline programs to be effective, it is imperative that the right content is provided to students at the right time. A focused approach combined with purposefully provided information will effectuate change for pipeline program participants. Consider the student group served by your program and how far along in the law school application or admission process, if at all, they are. Establishing a clear programmatic direction is an important foundational step to properly tracking and measuring outcomes and determining whether the program is achieving its goals.