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VOL. 122 | NO. 91 | Thursday, May 17, 2007

Scholarship Seeks to Increase Minority Enrollment at U of M Law School

By Eric Smith

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TEAMING UP FOR DIVERSITY: Glen Reid, partner at Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, Dr. Shirley Raines, president of the University of Memphis, and James Smoot, dean of the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the U of M, sign the paperwork that will establish a scholarship for a minority law school student beginning this fall. -- Photo Courtesy Of The University Of Memphis

With hopes of increasing diversity in the legal profession, the Memphis office of Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs LLP has established a scholarship program for a minority student to attend the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis.

The scholarship, which will be awarded to a student from an underrepresented racial or ethnic population, was designed to enable more minority students to complete their law studies and become attorneys.

For Glen Reid, partner in charge of the Memphis office of Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, the scholarship is the culmination of the firm's long-standing belief that law offices should reflect their communities.

"The Wyatt firm, ever since I have been with them, which has been 10 years, has always had a strong emphasis on diversity," Reid said. "We just got to thinking two or three years ago about something we could do to take some pro-action, and this scholarship idea came up."


Demanding standards

The scholarship will be awarded to a qualified student who is a resident of Tennessee or Kentucky. The applicant must have a minimum grade-point average of 3.0 and Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score of 153.

Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs has established similar scholarships where the firm has a presence, including in Kentucky at the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Plans also are in the works to establish a scholarship at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Reid said.

"The (minority) representation is getting better, but certainly with all aspects of diversity we need to continue to focus on them because minorities are not fully represented right now. It's going to give a minority student the ability to go that might not have otherwise been able to go and compete."
- Glen Reid
Partner in charge of the Memphis office of Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs LLP

In addition to tuition, the recipient of the U of M scholarship will have an internship with the firm during the summer, an important part of any law school experience, Reid said.

The Memphis scholarship will begin this fall and will be renewable for two additional years as long as the student is in the top 50 percent of the class.

Reid said the scholarship criteria are demanding but not so much that they will limit the field of applicants.

"(The scholarship is) for good students. You can't be a mediocre or average student," Reid said. "You're going to have to be in the upper part of your class both coming out of college and while in law school to keep the scholarship."


High costs only getting higher

James Smoot, dean of the U of M law school, said numerous firms contribute to the school's endowment, which helps in part pay for scholarships, but this program is unique in that it goes directly toward helping a student pay for his or her tuition.

For the 2006-2007 school year, U of M law school tuition was $10,116 per year for Tennessee residents and $28,466 for nonresidents - exorbitant amounts for many who aspire to become attorneys.

"The cost of education in our law school keeps going up year to year to year," Smoot said. "The bulk of our operating funds come from tuition. For a lot of students, that's an enormous burden. And for some it's an impossible burden to bear.

"Thus, we have a growing need for the kind of scholarship help (Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs is) providing."

Plus, Smoot expects tuition to rise this year, making the law firm's scholarship even more needed, but was not sure how large the tuition increase will be.

"The Wyatt scholarship commitment will enable us to bring to our law school some students who would otherwise not be able to afford it, and who will add diversity to our student body," Smoot said. "It's a remarkably insightful thing for them to do and it answers one of our most important needs."

Increasing minority enrollment

During the 2005-2006 school year, 43,883 law degrees were awarded at 195 schools in the United States, according to the American Bar Association. Of those graduates, 9,564 were minorities, or 21.8 percent, down from 22.4 percent the previous year.

At the U of M, 18 percent of the law school's students in the Class of 2009 are minorities, which means scholarship programs like this one could begin to help increase that number.

"The representation is getting better, but certainly with all aspects of diversity we need to continue to focus on them because minorities are not fully represented right now," Reid said. "It's going to give a minority student the ability to go that might not have otherwise been able to go and compete."

Reid also will encourage other law offices to step up and do something similar, with the idea that even more students will have that chance to compete.

"One of our goals in doing this was to hope to entice other firms to follow along," Reid said, "so that someone will follow behind us so that we will have a new one starting up every year."

His firm's effort to get the program up and running has even inspired Smoot to solicit other firms for similar scholarships, something the law school hadn't done before Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs came forth with its proposal.

"They were ahead of the game," Smoot said. "They concluded that it was something important to do. And I was flabbergasted when I heard about it. It's that kind of a firm. It's an amazing organization."

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