ABA Urges Congress to Fully Fund Thurgood Marshall Legal Educational Opportunity Program
WASHINGTON, D.C., March 23, 2004 – The American Bar Association today urged Congress to appropriate $5 million to continue the Thurgood Marshall Legal Educational Opportunity Program. Testifying before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations, ABA House of Delegates Chair H. Thomas Wells Jr. said the Marshall Program, administered by the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, is crucial to ensuring that poor and minority students have the opportunity to attend law school.
In his statement before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Wells noted the importance of fostering diversity in the legal profession. “We know from a national study we commissioned in 2000 that half of those polled believed that the system was unfair, treating people differently based on factors such as the color of one’s skin,” said Wells.
“One key to addressing this negative perception and restoring the public trust is to ensure that decision makers and others represented in our justice system reflect the growing diversity of our population. To promote this goal, we must continue to encourage young men and women from underserved communities to pursue a legal education.”
Wells noted that, despite some 35 years of efforts to the contrary, no minority group currently comprises more than 4 percent of the lawyer population, and that the single greatest barrier to diversifying the profession is the cost of legal education. “Like most everything else, the price of a legal education has more than quadrupled since I graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law,” said Wells. “The result of this has been a tendency to disproportionately exclude those of limited financial means yet these are often the communities with the most critical legal needs.”
The Marshall Program helps to motivate and prepare qualifying students for successful law school study and to encourage them in turn to provide services to low-income communities. The Marshall Program offers its fellows structured assistance in preparing for law school, and for qualified students a stipend of up to $10,000 to help offset the financial burden of legal study. Currently more than 600 students receive funding through the Marshall program, and graduates for whom law school would not otherwise have been possible have already begun taking on valuable roles in their communities.
“The ABA believes that public confidence in the administration of justice requires a representative system and that the Thurgood Marshall Legal Educational Opportunity Program has and will continue to have a significant positive impact on society for a modest cost,” said Wells. “I therefore strongly urge the Subcommittee to appropriate $5 million for the program in fiscal year 2005.”
To promote diversity in the legal profession, the Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO), a non-profit project of the ABA’s Fund for Justice and Education, was formed in 1968 and is governed today by representatives from the ABA, the Association of American Law Schools, the Hispanic National Bar Association, the Law School Admissions Council, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the Society for American Law Teachers and the private bar. For more than 35 years CLEO has worked with more than 100 undergraduate and law schools to identify qualified minority and low income students and provide them with appropriate counseling, placement assistance and training.
The American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership association in the world. With more than 400,000 members, the ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public.