Elon hosts national conversation for first-generation law students

A program inspired by the law school’s Alliance of Legal Pioneers and Supporters, with guidance from law faculty and Elon University’s First-Generation Student Support Services, welcomed dozens of participants from around the globe to network and share common experiences.

A panel of administrators and professors from several American law schools shared advice this month for those who are the first in their families to attend college with plans of pursing law school:

  • You belong in law school just as much as those with a family history of attending college. You are not an impostor.
  • Law schools offer resources to help students succeed in the classroom. View them as “springboards” to success, not as “crutches.”
  • You were a fantastic person before law school, you will be a fantastic person after law school, and it’s too easy to be weighed down by the pressures of your studies. Law school should not define your worth.
  • Self-care is critical.

“In my day, and perhaps even today, no one is really told to take care of themselves,” said Elon Law Professor Steve Friedland, who helped organize an inaugural program for first-generation students hosted by the university and attended on April 16, 2021, by students and educators from across the United States. “We really only focus on the work! But taking care of yourself is just as important or even more important than the work itself.”

“National Alliance of First-Generation Law School Students” was open to all law school candidates that identify as first-generation college students, as well as current law students pursuing a legal career. Dozens of participants from around the United States – and even a registrant living in China, where it was after midnight local time – contributed to the Zoom conversations and chat rooms moderated by faculty and Elon Law alumni.

With guidance from Friedland and Oscar Miranda in Elon University’s First-Generation Student Support Services in the Center for Access and Success, the afternoon program was inspired by the Alliance of Legal Pioneers and Supporters, an Elon Law student group that provides support and resources for first-generation law students.

Law professors and administrators offered some of the most poignant moments of the afternoon event. They included:

  • Reyes Aguilar, associate dean for admission and financial aid at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law
  • Jessica Fonseca-Nader, assistant dean for enrollment & scholarships and associate professor of legal writings at St. Thomas University School of Law
  • Dustin Benham, professor of law at Texas Tech University School of Law
  • Olympia Duhart, associate dean for faculty and student development & professor of law at the Shepard Broad College of Law at Nova Southeastern University

Current Elon Law students and Elon undergraduates with an interest in law school comprised another panel that provided insights for those just being introduced to the legal academy. Brittany Graybeal L’22, Sean Jeffcoat ’11 L’21, Kaitlyn Smith ’23, and Gaby Jimenez ’21 each provided insights about the law school application process, life as a law student, and more broadly, their experiences as first-generation college students.

“I thought I knew what networking was before law school, and I didn’t,” Jeffcoat said. “Now that I’ve gone through two years, I’ve finally figured out how to network and know that I need to put myself out there to seek the information that I need and potentially get the job that I want.

“That was the biggest worry coming in… not knowing anybody. Now, I know numerous attorneys who can lead me in the right direction, no matter what direction I choose to take.”

Graybeal told participants how being a first-generation student meant taking a trial-and-error approach to learning the law school application process. Be prepared for uncertainty, she added.

“When I decided I was going to look at law school, I sat in front of Google,” she said. “I also used LSAC’s checklist and that was helpful in some ways – but in some ways it was even more confusing. If you don’t have anyone in your family who has been to law school or who has gone down this path, you have no clue what you’re in for.”

If you don’t have anyone in your family who has been to law school or who has gone down this path, you have no clue what you’re in for.

– Brittany Graybeal L’22

The aim of the conference was to be the first step toward the creation of a new National Alliance of First-Generation Law School Students with resources and data on related issues managed at Elon Law. During the event, organizers sought suggestions from attendees, many of whom proposed making similar gatherings an annual program.

The program included prize drawings, and networking windows for registrants to meet virtually with other law school candidates, professors, and professionals.

Organizers will share more information when next steps are finalized for best developing their national initiative.