Want to Make a Difference within the Justice System? Here’s How to Get There

The racial bias in our legal system is costing lives. We need more black and brown lawyers and judges so that there far fewer injustices like those surrounding Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown and the Central Park 5—now known as the Exonerated 5. Incorporating more professionals of color into the country’s legal system, however, comes with obstacles of its own. 

But UNCF (United Negro College Fund) has a solution. Providing a top-notch education and graduating black students at a far-above average rate, HBCUs are an especially good choice to prepare you for meaningful, well-paying careers, graduate studies and a pursuit of fair, accessible and visible justice.

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Dillard University (click image to view)

The most essential characteristics of a lawyer or judge aren’t a complete comprehension of national politics or an encyclopedic knowledge of the law. If you’re an excellent communicator both in speaking and in writing and you have a stellar work ethic, chances are you’re already a promising candidate for a legal career. Law-related professions make for long, well-paying, mentally stimulating careers and, if you’re motivated by a sense of social justice, they can give you an opportunity to enact meaningful change. If you have a keen interest in ensuring your community is fairly represented within the judicial system and that racial injustice is eliminated, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a job well suited to your interests.

As the path to a career in law is challenging, it’s never too early to start taking steps in the right direction. Both high school and college may provide opportunities to join a debate team, which is excellent practice if you plan to work in a courtroom someday. While most schools don’t offer law as an undergraduate degree, many have a pre-law department. Ask an admissions counselor to get you connected. Majoring in political science, history, English, economics, criminal justice or philosophy for an undergraduate degree is not uncommon for future law students. Outside of school, stay in the know. Keep up with the news regularly, and check out the American Bar Association to see the current requirements for membership.

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In theory, you can attend virtually any university and major in virtually any discipline before law school. Choosing a rigorous college with excellent resources for pre-law students, however, will best equip you for further study. Morehouse College, offers a pre-law program through its political science department. Tougaloo College’s pre-law minor is designed for undergraduate students planning to apply to law school. Xavier University of Louisiana stands out with its political science accelerated “pre-law” bachelor’s degree, which adds key courses to the political science major, and its pre-law minor is available to undergraduates who aren’t majoring in political science but intend to apply to law school. Xavier also has a chapter of Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity international and an active pre-law club, which sponsors guest speakers, LSAT preparation packages, law school application seminars and field trips to local courts and law school recruitment conferences.  And Dillard University‘s pre-law program may be the only HBCU with a full-time pre law advisor and a dedicated staff, and been recognized by the American Bar Association for our work.

But the options don’t stop there. Jarvis Christian University, Johnson C. Smith University, Lane College, LeMoyne-Owen College, Livingstone College, Morris College, Paine College and Philander Smith College are all UNCF HBCUs that offer exceptional criminal justice and criminology programs. You have a wide variety of scholarships to choose from and, if you’re a high-achieving student, you’ll have an advantage when applying to scholarships like the UNCF General Scholarship Awards.

As great as it is, having so many majors, schools and opportunities available can become overwhelming. Stay up to date by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where we highlight outstanding achievements from our member HBCUs and share exciting opportunities for students. Getting a job as a lawyer or judge isn’t easy. But with the right tools and perseverance, it’s possible.