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Penn Law School will look to offer better support for first generation law school students beginning in the fall of 2019.

Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

Penn Law School will introduce a new initiative next fall to better support students who are the first in their families to attend law school.

The Penn Law First Generation Fellows program, founded by 1988 Penn Law graduate David Silk, will provide personal mentorship and career support to first-generation law students while they are at school and as they transition to professional work. The program will support six students over six years, with two first-year law students entering the program for each of the next three years.

“Transitioning to law school can be really challenging, and transitioning to practice has those challenges," Penn Law Associate Dean for Professional Engagement Jennifer Leonard said. "It is even more challenging if you don’t have a personal connection to the experience, like a parent or a sibling, so we hope to provide that support."

A 2004 Penn Law graduate, Leonard is also the director of Penn Law’s Center on Professionalism, which will administer the First Generation Fellows program. 

Leonard explained that the program will provide mentorship from multiple angles. While earning their law degrees, students will be trained in personal finance, technology use, time and project management, professional attire, and executive communication. A team of senior administrators, alumni, and upper-level students will also help students figure out their professional goals. Finally, a "transition to practice" component will provide six executive training sessions for graduates during their first year practicing law.  

Third-year Penn Law student Bradie Williams, president of Penn Law’s First Generation Professionals group, stressed the importance of empowering students who are the first in their families to attend graduate or professional school. 

“The legal space, particularly at a space like Penn, is undeniably an elite space. Folks from [first-generation] backgrounds or working class backgrounds are often dealing with impostor syndrome," Williams said. “The fellowship is going to help students show the value that they bring to our community.”

Silk, a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen, & Katz and board member of Penn Law’s Institute for Law & Economics, said he established the First Generation Fellows program to help create a "level playing field" for law students from various backgrounds.

“It struck me as an important way to advance both the needs of the school and the needs of society in helping people who have not have the way paved for them, to make it a little easier," Silk said. 

Williams agreed that the program has the potential for widespread positive impact. 

“Students who are coming into our setting will feel like they have a chance of success, will feel empowered to be leaders in the community," Williams said. "This benefits the law school community, benefits our future employers, and hopefully society at large.” 

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