California Lawyers Foundation

Foundation-Funded LEAP Program Supports First-Generation Law School Applicants

By Oyango A. Snell


When Cindy M. Lopez set out to become the first person in her family to attend law school in the 1980s, there was no one there to review her personal statement, help prepare her for the Law School Admissions Test, or advise her on which law schools might be a good fit for her. So after retiring from the California Attorney General’s Office in 2019, she decided to make sure students following in her footsteps would have support to overcome their challenges. Lopez founded the Legal Education Access Pipeline (LEAP), whose mission is to diversify the legal profession by preparing underrepresented students to become successful law school applicants, lawyers, and agents of social change. The nonprofit has already helped more than a hundred students pursue their dreams. Surveys showed that all the students felt knowledgeable about the law school admissions process after completing the eight-month program. Ninety percent were confident about taking the LSAT. Student fellows are now attending prestigious schools such as UC Berkeley School of Law, UC Hastings Law, and Loyola Law School, Lopez’s alma mater. One fellow was recently accepted to Stanford Law School, one of the most competitive schools in the country.


The California Lawyers Foundation recently provided a $35,000 grant so LEAP could expand from Southern California to Northern California this year. To allow for a personalized experience, the cohort size will remain small, with no more than 30 students in each geographic area. The program is unique among legal diversity pipeline programs because each student gets assigned two mentors — an attorney and a law student. LEAP’s largest expense is tutoring and LSAT preparation since the exam remains the biggest barrier for students from underrepresented groups. The students have created group chats to stay in touch with each other and serve as an informal support network. Lopez also plans to build a strong alumni network.


Lopez developed the curriculum with Paula Gluzman, a consultant with Spivey Consulting. She also enlisted the help of Lavinia Osilesi, an associate at Reed Smith, to create Pre-L preparation classes taught by law student mentors. Once a month, for a few hours, the students learn about aspects of law school, such as outlining, self-care, and the Socratic method. “Even though law schools do orientation, I was completely lost, and I don’t want our students to feel that way,” Lopez said. “I want to level the playing field for that first day of law school.” I want our students to feel that way,” Lopez said. “I want to level the playing field for that first day.”


Another way that LEAP levels the playing field is through its public interest summer internship grants. Recognizing that unpaid internships can be a hardship for students of color, LEAP raised money to award six fellows grants for their unpaid work with government agencies and public interest firms. LEAP’s work furthers the California Lawyers Foundation’s mission of promoting excellence, diversity, and inclusion in the legal profession.


Formed in 2019, the California Lawyers Foundation is the charitable arm and partner of the California Lawyers Association. Both organizations share a joint mission of promoting excellence, diversity, and inclusion in the legal profession and fairness in the administration of justice and the rule of law. The foundation also funded the California Free Legal Answers Platform, which helps people navigate legal questions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires, and other disasters. Aid recipients were low-income residents who otherwise did not have access to legal services. Read more about the foundation’s work. The foundation is thankful for the support of our first group of Founding Fifty members. Read more about how they are increasing access to justice in California and beyond.


CLF welcomes donations from individuals, firms, companies, and foundations to help support its growing list of projects. The Foundation has a Gift Acceptance Policy with details on how to contribute and the types of gifts accepted. In addition, CLF is interested in potentially co-sponsoring and supporting projects. To that end, the Foundation has created a Co-Sponsorship Policy that outlines the requirements. In addition, there are other ways to support the work CLF does. There are numerous ways to participate in the Foundation from Facebook campaigns to Amazon SMILE designations. Visit the CLF website for more information.

Oyango A. Snell is the CEO & Executive Director of the California Lawyers Foundation.

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