Idealism motivates law students

Howard University professor Patricia Worthy has her finger on the pulse of some of today’s students bound for law school.

Ms. Worthy, the university’s associate dean for academic affairs, sifts through potential students’ admissions forms, which include essays on why they want to study law. The answers speak volumes of their intentions, she says.

Today’s Howard law students, and those attending other District universities, still possess the raw idealism of their predecessors, and their numbers are growing.

As the economy continues to struggle, interest in law schools keeps climbing. The Newtown, Pa.-based Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) reports that 17 percent more students submitted applications to American Bar Association-accredited law schools in fall 2002 than the previous year.

The upward swing, reflected at several local law schools, is expected to keep climbing this year, the LSAC predicts. In a struggling economy, many students see the legal profession as a sure thing, local law educators say.

But economics is hardly the main motivating factor.

Ms. Worthy says most Howard students take up law to help right some of the social injustices they’ve seen or read about during their young lives.

The university may call the District home, but government doesn’t factor into the students’ thinking as much as at other District law schools, she says.

Instead, Howard’s legacy of fighting injustice is a prime draw. Some graduates will “go back into their communities and run for office,” says Ms. Worthy, who reports her university’s law school admissions are up about 40 percent in recent months.

That isn’t to say some students aren’t following the major national cases. The hotly contested 2000 presidential election is reflected in more than a few personal statements, as are cases involving affirmative action decisions and the Patriot Act.

Dean Michael K. Young of the George Washington University Law School says today’s law students “are as idealistic and visionary as they’ve always been.” What’s different, he says, is that they see how they can help deal with problems like racism and poverty through litigation.

As the students see it, “the world is being transformed in part by information and technology and the law … they want to play a role in that,” he says.

They also see perceived intrusions on civil rights and want to make sure the public is protected, he says, adding that George Washington’s law school has seen a “dramatic” rise in its law applications.

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