- All-new educational concept intends to make pursuit of a legal education more appealing and welcoming to students of color
- Innovative elective high school curriculum jointly created by Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford Learning Institute and Ford Motor Company Fund
- Pilot programs rolling out at two Detroit-area public charter schools – first this year, second in fall 2021 – with expectation to expand more widely
DEARBORN, Mich., Nov. 23, 2020 – With the singular mission of bringing diversity to the practice of law, Ford Motor Company – with the support of its philanthropic arm, Ford Motor Company Fund, and Henry Ford Learning Institute – has developed the Ford Law Career Academy.
The four-year program is being piloted in two metro Detroit high schools, with an innovative curriculum designed to fill a void by exciting, inspiring and empowering students of color to explore law careers.
“I know what it means to have strong mentors in my life, and I want that same experience for today’s students of color,” said Alison Nelson, a lawyer at Ford counsel and a program champion. “We have a responsibility to work toward diversity, inclusion and racial equality.
“I am the proud product of Detroit public schools, was the first child in my family to graduate college and was the first to become a lawyer,” she added. “I want more children of color to consider the law profession.”
Ford Law Career Academy, created in cooperation with educators and Ford’s legal office, introduces students to a range of practice areas. The program gives them the tools to take the first steps in developing the skills, mindset, knowledge and networking all lawyers need for success, and in turn will help increase the diversity of people within the field. In addition to the company’s own lawyers, attorneys from law firms that work for Ford will support the academy through coaching, mentoring and internships.
Ford is collaborating with two charter schools serving Detroit-area youth – Henry Ford Academy and University Preparatory Academy High School – to pilot the program. Students begin elective coursework as freshmen and progress through four years of learning that includes law theory, mock trials and field training with law firm partners. The program culminates with a senior thesis-type project, with graduates prepared to go on to pursue a formal prelaw curriculum at the university level, ideally followed by law school. Henry Ford Academy is launching a slightly modified program this academic year, while University Preparatory Academy High School will introduce the program in fall 2021.
Right now, African Americans make up more than 13 percent of the U.S. population, but only 5 percent of lawyers – the same as 10 years ago – according to the American Bar Association. With educational achievement directly correlated to economic empowerment, rounding the curve to improve economic status within African American communities is challenging.
“Our team wants to help change that,” said Nelson. “As the U.S. works through a long overdue reckoning on race, we believe now is the time to act, and the law is where so much of real change happens.
“Ford wants to be a changemaker, by making the law accessible, representative and welcoming to children of color who otherwise may never have considered entering this field or believed it was closed off to them,” she added.
By creating greater access to law-related education, Ford Law Career Academy is constructively engaging in the ongoing battle for racial and social justice. Putting students of color on a path to economic empowerment can contribute to lowering barriers to entry across the professional spectrum and help lead to a more just society for all. Encouraging students to become aware of and passionate about the law will fundamentally change the practice at all levels. In turn, more diverse racial, ethnic and cultural perspectives can help assure a broader range of voices, including the Black experience, is heard and will matter in the eyes of the law.
Nelson said that programs at the pilot schools aren’t the end goal. Ford is already working to identify additional high schools across the country to scale and replicate the program with the goal of having a national presence as quickly as possible.
“I want to see more people of color influencing the law and improving communities through representation and inclusion,” said Nelson. I want to help make that change. We should all want to.”
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