Program introduces underserved youth to law school and a career in law.
Nearly 50 high school students from around Western Washington got to experience life as a law student on Wednesday during the second annual LawYours program.
The free event gives teenagers from underserved backgrounds an opportunity to visit Seattle University School of Law to learn about the legal field as a possible career path.
Throughout the day, students participated in workshops to study current topics such as critical race theory and alternatives to youth incarceration.
“It has been super informative,” said Kamiyah Vitartas-Miller, who will be a junior at Annie Wright Upper School in Tacoma this fall with plans to study criminology or political science in college. “I came here to understand if going to law school is something I want to do.”
The high schoolers networked with law students, professors, and attorneys, and learned about legal volunteer opportunities at Skagit Legal Aid, a nonprofit that works with historically underprivileged communities.
“It makes me think about my career options,” said Carlos Valdes, a soon-to-be junior at Bellingham High School. He is considering going into international business or business law.
Derek Red Arrow Frank '18, an attorney at Stokes Lawrence P.S. in Yakima and a member of the Nez Perce Tribe (the Nimiipuu), gave the keynote speech, during which he illustrated his own career journey. He told the students about the challenges he experienced and urged them not to give up when encountering hurdles.
“Each of you has faced something — or if you haven’t yet, I guarantee you will — but like every good book, the ups and downs are what make the story compelling,” Frank said. “What we do with that experience will define who we are, the advocates that we become. No amount of money can pay for your life’s story. It is your diverse personhood, your background, your culture that makes you you.”
Today, Frank is an advocate for tribes who fights for treaty rights across the country. Frank noted that he is a rarity — according to statistics from the American Bar Association, only 0.2% of attorneys in the United States are tribal members, even though the Native American portion of the general population is more than five times that.
“An attorney is an advocate. An attorney understands the system — and an attorney can change the system,” Frank said.
LawYours was the brainchild of Seattle U Law Professor Steven Bender, who believes pipeline programs need to reach not only undergraduate students, but high school students who are just starting to think about their careers.
“I think the most valuable things the students can give us are their time, their listening, and their interaction around the law and how they might see themselves representing diverse communities,” said Bender, who is also associate dean for Planning and Strategic Initiatives. “It’s heartwarming to see so many students devote a long day of their time and energy toward the possibility of a legal career.”
Helping Bender develop the program were Access to Justice Institute Director Lily Su and Tony Vo, associate director of Admission and Student Life. It took years for the program to get off the ground due to the pandemic, but LawYours officially launched in 2022.
“This is a good opportunity for students from underrepresented backgrounds to see themselves in the legal profession,” Su said.
The team hopes LawYours will become a tradition for many years to come.
“It’s really important to show students different areas of law and have representation in those areas of law so that the change we want to see can happen,” Vo said.