FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The Allen County Bar Foundation (ACBF) is offering scholarships to law students and undergraduate students in the county interested in pursuing a law degree.
The scholarship will provide $2,500 to a law student to help cover tuition and fees or preparing for the bar exam and up to $1,500 for an undergraduate student preparing to take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).
The foundation began offering this scholarship last year when they awarded two students, one for a law student and the other for an undergraduate, both from the Fort Wayne area. They plan to offer a third scholarship this year after the ACBF received additional funding.
Sarah Beiswanger, a member of the ACBF’s diversity and inclusion committee, said these scholarships can help students cover the costs of books for law school and studying for the LSAT and the bar exam, both of which can be expensive and time consuming.
“Not every student has the ability to miss working and not have an income while studying for these tests,” she said.
The average cost for taking a bar exam prep course is between $1,000 and $3,000. The typical cost for taking the LSAT is more than $200.
The ACBF decided to create this scholarship after Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush said in 2020 that the legal field “must improve the pathways for people of color to become lawyers and judges.”
“People must see themselves, their experiences and their backgrounds reflected in the bench and bar of this state to foster trust and understanding between the public and the judicial branch,” Chief Justice Rush said in a statement at the time.
According to a press release, Chief Justice Rush said in a 2019 interview that “out of the 22,000 attorneys in Indiana, 75% of them are white while just 3% are Black and about 1% are Hispanic.”
Beiswanger said those disparities are pretty similar, if not greater in Allen County.
“We have about 700 attorneys in our county and not many of them are people of color,” she said.
She noted that Fort Wayne has a large Burmese population as well as many Black and Hispanic people and that they are not adequately represented in the law profession.
“People who look like you who are in the legal community inspires trust in the proceedings and the outcomes of them,” she said. “It helps improve engagement with the courts from the bottom up.”
Getting into the legal field can often be difficult for people to do because of the amount of schooling required. People not only need a bachelor’s degree but have to do three years of law school and also pass the bar exam in order to practice law.
She said every step towards becoming a lawyer gets harder and that some people may not have the support system at home to pursue it or they don’t have the funds to continue their education.
“I’ve spoken to some students who have told me they were never encouraged to get into the profession because it’s so much schooling and that they should just go get a job,” she added. “It’s also not having any mentors for students and not having a path paved for a career in law.”
She hopes offering the scholarships can help draw students of color into the profession and into the legal community in Allen County by providing connections to local law firms or government offices.
For students interested in the scholarship, they have until June 2 to apply for it, with the award announcement coming by July 1. Applicants can apply online by logging onto www.allencountybar.org.