DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — A new program at the University of Dayton School of Law is giving students an opportunity they might not otherwise have. 

The UD Flyer Legal Pathways Program was just launched this year connecting promising young students with local law firms. It provides under-served and under-represented students with a full ride to law school and a chance to grow in a law firm, while also feeding the pipeline in the legal sector with diverse talent. 

“It’s a win-win-win situation,” says Andrew Strauss, Dean of the University of Dayton School of Law. “I felt like there was a real opportunity here. I sometimes refer to it as the money ball of legal education. People talk about the problems of pipeline. And we have a big, honestly, diversity problem in the Dayton legal community in terms of representation of people of traditionally excluded groups.” 

Bringing a breadth of knowledge and experience, Jessica Gassett and Lizzy Dobbins were chosen for this year’s program. 

“Jessica and Lizzy are both incredibly intelligent. They’re both analytically talented, but it’s personality, it’s the ability to think creatively, it’s a lot of the interesting things that they have both done in their background,” says Dean Strauss. 

“I always wanted to go to law school. Since high school I knew I wanted to be a lawyer,” says Gassett.

Gassett is a graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C. She’s also worked for Sotheby’s Auction House and MTV in their legal department. 

Dobbins is a graduate of Hanover College. 

“Growing up, I didn’t know many lawyers. I didn’t really know much about that pathway, so it wasn’t really until being on campus, meeting other people that I kind of grew into thinking that maybe law could be something I’m interested in,” says Dobbins. 

She also earned a Fulbright scholarship. During the pandemic, Dobbins spent time working with Heartfelt Tidbits, a nonprofit in Cincinnati that helps immigrants and refugees in the city get connected to programming and different resources.

Only in their first few months of law school, they’re already gaining real work experience.

Gassett is a legal scholar at Thompson Hine.

“It is such a rewarding experience to watch them grow and blossom,” states Christine Haaker, Partner in charge at Thompson Hine. “The students really have champions in their corner from the minute they walk into–if not before they walk into–law school.” 

“Being able to not only be connected with the opportunity to work with a firm but also to be able to start to foster relationships prior to graduation, prior to actually having to work is amazing,” states Gassett.

Dobbins is a legal scholar at Taft. 

“Rather than waiting for people to apply to law school, we’re actually going out and recruiting people who are talented, motivated, and passionate,” says Jennifer Harrison, Partner in charge at Taft.

“It’s been really incredible to get to meet people in the community, get to ask them questions, get to ask them advice,” states Dobbins. 

With full tuition and a $15,000 yearly stipend for living expenses, the program is also meant to help ease some of the burden and pressures that go along with law school.

“I think back to my first year of law school and just how much uncertainty there was,” admits Harrison. “Law school is a huge challenge–financially, professionally.”

“Being able to concentrate on their legal studies, being able to have a work family that they can come to over the summers, and they don’t have to worry about interviewing, and trying to get those positions, and then a position after law school really frees them up,” states Haaker. 

Just as important as the financial aspect is the mentoring aspect of the program.

“The more that we create relationships at an earlier point in the process and in the journey of law students, the more impact that we can have,” says Haaker.

The program helps form a long-range relationship between students and law offices and paves the way for them for the future.

“I’m here because somebody saw something in me. I think that’s really important,” says Gassett.

“It can be so easy thinking you’re not supposed to be there, but this program wants you to be there,” says Dobbins. 

The University of Dayton School of Law is hoping this program will be a model for other law schools. Dean Strauss says there are additional law offices that are on board to be sponsors for next year.