Pre-Law Institute Benefit Breakfast Focuses on Diversity in the Legal Profession

Pre-Law Institute Benefit Breakfast Focuses on Diversity in the Legal Profession

Pre-Law Institute Benefit Breakfast Focuses on Diversity in the Legal Profession

The Pre-Law Institute (PLI) strives to help John Jay students and alumni build their academic and professional skills, prep for the LSAT, and advise them on their law school applications, all in hopes of diversifying our country’s bar. To continue supporting the life-changing work done by PLI, a benefit breakfast was held on October 22 to help raise funds for the institute’s programs. During her welcome remarks President of John Jay College, Karol V. Mason, explained why PLI is so important. “The legal profession remains one of the least diverse career fields in this country. Currently, 85 percent of practicing lawyers are white, five percent are black, five percent are Latinx, and three percent are Asian. And when it comes to prosecutors in this country, only five percent are people of color,” she said. “That’s not what we want this country’s legal profession to look like.”

President Karol V. Mason discussing the need to diversify the bar
President Karol V. Mason discussing the need to diversify the bar

“Our PLI team work with students through their academic journey here at John Jay, and they continue to support them on their way to law school and throughout their professional careers.” —Karol V. Mason

Mason then highlighted the role PLI and its supporters are playing in disrupting that disparity. “We know the statistics are dismal, but the good news is that John Jay and PLI are working to change those numbers. Our PLI team, led by the incomparable Dr. Charles Davidson, and his Associate Directors Elizabeth Broccoli and Jerylle Kemp, work with students through their academic journey here at John Jay, and they continue to support them on their way to law school and throughout their professional careers.” Mason went on to thank several guests who serve as inspiring role models, including Darcel D. Clark, Bronx District Attorney, and host committee members Anne Beane Rudman, Paula Anderson ’98, Muhammad Faridi ’04, Brendan McGuire, Michael Bosworth, and Oscar Odom, III ’83.

(left to right) Charles Davidson, Darcel Clark and President Karol V. Mason
(left to right) Charles Davidson, Darcel Clark, and President Karol V. Mason

“In half a century, the numbers of black lawyers went from one percent to five percent—that is appalling. But it also reinforces for me how important and necessary the work we do in PLI is.” —Charles Robert Davidson

Echoing President Mason’s sentiments, Charles Robert Davidson, Ph.D., Director of the Pre-Law Institute and Center for Post-Graduate Opportunities, spoke of why PLI’s work is such a personal endeavor for him. “I went back to the year of my birth for a comparative perspective, and in 1966, black lawyers made up one percent of the legal profession. The numbers for other ethnic groups were so low, they weren’t even counted,” said Davidson. “In half a century, the numbers of black lawyers went from one percent to five percent—that is appalling. But it also reinforces for me how important and necessary the work we do in PLI is. John Jay ranks nationally in preparing minority students for law school; we’re the number four producer of African-American students to law school, 12th for Latinx students, and eighth overall for minorities. Our students are getting into top law programs at Columbia, Cornell, Duke, St. John’s, and Michigan University, to name a few. And they’re doing that thanks to your support which helps PLI offer programs that better prepare them for law school.”

Charles Davidson and President Karol V. Mason
Charles Davidson and President Karol V. Mason

“John Jay students always outperform their LSAT scores, they’re also some of the best and brightest students in the classroom.” —Charles Robert Davidson

One of the staunchest supporters of John Jay students is Carolyn Nelson from Nelson Test Prep, a PLI partner and provider of LSAT preparation courses, offered at no cost to John Jay students. Nelson surprised Davidson by covering the cost of the benefit breakfast so that the money raised during the event would go directly into the program. Davidson thanked Nelson for her unwavering support and noted the key role she plays in helping our students get into law school. “Carolyn takes our students from where they are today, to exactly where they want to be when it’s time for law school,” said Davidson, adding that data shows the LSAT often perpetuates the blockage to the legal profession. “The LSAT serves as a terrible gatekeeper for students of color. It takes about 2,000 black applicants to produce 1,000 offers of admissions, that’s 50 percent,” said Davidson. “That’s concerning, because the LSAT is a such a huge piece of getting into law school, but we also know by other measures that our students perform well. One thing I’m always told by law school admission officers around the country is that John Jay students always outperform their LSAT scores, they’re also some of the best and brightest students in the classroom.”

Davidson speaking to the audience
Davidson speaking to the audience

“The Pre-Law Institute and John Jay serve as a sanctuary for students who do not know where to begin in order to follow their dream.” —Anyeli De Los Santos

Speaking about the impact PLI and Davidson have on students was Anyeli De Los Santos ’20. “I was born and raised for 10 years of my life in the Dominican Republic. When we came to this country, my mom told me that education was the only opportunity for social mobility,” said De Los Santos, as she told the audience of her upbringing and making her way to John Jay. “The Pre-Law Institute and John Jay serve as a sanctuary for students who do not know where to begin in order to follow their dream.” Giving the audience insight into her first meeting with Davidson, she said, “The first question he asked was ‘Who are you?’ Now, that question may seem simple, but for me, I didn’t even know where to begin. The Pre-Law Institute is a blessing for people who want to be seen. The team guides students for academic success; teaching them the importance of time management and asking for help from professors, peers, and mentors; and encouraging a lot of reading and writing to succeed in law school or graduate school.” Before handing the mic back to Davidson, De Los Santos thanked him for his guidance. “One of the most valuable lessons I learned from Dr. Davidson is that becoming a lawyer is just the first step. The second part is to inspire the kids in the black and Latinx communities to continue the forward progress and change the face of the legal profession.” 

Anyeli De Los Santos
Anyeli De Los Santos

Coming back to the podium, Davidson provided the audience with context on why he asks students “Who are you?” explaining, “I ask that question because I don’t know if anyone else will ever ask you ‘Who are you?’ I also know that if you don’t know who you are, then you don’t know what you’re doing out in the world. And thirdly, I want to make sure you know that it matters to me who you are.” Before ending the event, he thanked PLI’s tremendous support network. “We really take the work we do seriously, and we know it will change the face of the profession,” said Davidson. “Because if there’s an area where we want to see a system look like our nation, it’s our legal system. Thank you for your contributions and with your continued support I know we will make the legal profession diverse and we’ll help change lives.” 

President Mason and Davidson share a laugh
President Mason and Davidson share a laugh