Over the last two summers, Justice Center staff attorney Meg Clifford has been integral to the success of Discover Law, a program to help racially and ethnically diverse undergraduates discover career opportunities in law and navigate college and the law school admissions process. Discover Law is a collaboration between UT Austin and Huston-Tillotson University, hosted by the Law School and administered by the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence, a unit of UT Austin’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. The program is part of the Law School Admission Council’s national “DiscoverLaw.org” campaign.
In 2017, 20 students, mostly rising sophomores and juniors, were chosen from Huston-Tillotson and UT Austin for the rigorous five-week summer program. Clifford led the development of the programming and curriculum, and recruited Texas Law faculty, staff, and alumni to teach mini-courses, conduct lectures and workshops, and support the students at orientation and closing celebrations. Lawyers and judges from various practice areas met students on campus or welcomed them at their law firms, Capitol Complex offices, or courtrooms. “The goal was to immerse students in law school and legal professional experiences,” said Clifford.
Over the five weeks, the Discover Law students participated in a legal research and writing program that mimics the first-year law school curriculum, including writing memos and delivering oral arguments. The students also took part in mini-courses in Contracts, Criminal Law, Immigration, and Constitutional Law, and shorter lectures and workshops in Labor and Employment Law, Legal Ethics, and Copyright. In addition, Clifford developed the curriculum to prepare the participants for the law school admissions process and the practice of law, by building their skills in areas such as resume development, professional etiquette, networking, and setting goals. The students also participated in a service-learning project in partnership with Breakthrough Austin, teaching high school students about criminal and civil law and trial advocacy.
A former teacher, Clifford works in the Justice Center’s Mithoff Pro Bono Program to develop and supervise pro bono activities for law students, with a focus on addressing barriers for low-income and minority students and young adults in Austin. She supervises pro bono expunction clinics and Youth Court, a positive disciplinary program in a local middle school, as part of the Justice Center’s Educational Equity Project (EEP). Clifford’s position leading the EEP is supported by UT Austin’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.
“Discover Law bridges my interests in law and education, particularly in combatting opportunity gaps,” said Clifford. “Moreover, my work with the pro bono program requires me to break down complex legal concepts for law students as well as clients. In the Discover Law program, we try to break down the field and study of law into manageable chunks of information, experiences, and skill-building activities appropriate—and appropriately challenging—for undergraduate students.”