DEARBORN, Mich., Oct. 19, 2020 – With the singular mission of bringing diversity to the practice of law, Ford Motor Company – with the support of its philanthropic arm, Ford Motor Company Fund, and Henry Ford Learning Institute – has developed the Ford Law Career Academy. The four-year program is launching in two metro Detroit high schools with an innovative curriculum designed to excite, inspire and empower students of color to explore a law career. It fills a void for a legal-themed career academy that introduces high school students to law as a profession.
“I’ve felt a responsibility to work toward diversity, inclusion and racial equality from the time I was just 8 years old, and that is the whole reason I went on to study law,” said Alison Nelson, Ford counsel and program champion. “I know what it means to have strong mentors in my life, and I want that same experience for today’s students of color. As the proud product of Detroit public schools, the first kid in my family to graduate college and the first to become a lawyer, I want more children of color to consider the law profession.”
Ford Law Career Academy, created in cooperation with educators and Ford’s legal office, introduces students to a range of practice areas. It gives them the tools to take the first steps in developing the skills, mindset, knowledge and networking all lawyers need for success, while aiming to augment diverse representation within the field. Ford’s outside counsel will provide support through coaching, mentoring and internships.
Ford is collaborating with two charter schools serving Detroit-area youth – Henry Ford Academy and University Preparatory Academy High School – to pilot the program. Students begin elective coursework as freshmen and progress through four years of learning that includes law theory, mock trials and field training with law firm partners. It culminates with a senior thesis-type project, with graduates prepared to go on to a university to pursue a formal prelaw curriculum and then law school. Henry Ford Academy is launching a slightly modified program this academic year, while University Preparatory Academy High School will launch fall 2021.
Right now, African Americans make up 13.4 percent of the U.S. population, however, according to the American Bar Association, only 5 percent of lawyers are African American – the same as 10 years ago. With educational achievement directly correlated to economic empowerment,rounding the curve to improve economic status amongst African American communities has only gotten harder.
“Our team wants to change that,” said Nelson. “As this country works through a long overdue reckoning on race, we believe now is the time to act, as the law is where so much of real change happens. Ford is aiming to make the law accessible, representative and welcoming to kids of color who may never have thought entering this field and working to be a changemaker was really an option.”
By creating greater access to law-related educational opportunities, Ford Law Career Academy is engaging in the ongoing fight for racial and social justice. Putting students of color on a path to economic empowerment will lower barriers to entry across the professional spectrum and lead to a more just society for all. Encouraging these students to become interested in and passionate about the law will fundamentally change the practice at all levels. More diverse racial, ethnic and cultural perspectives will ensure all voices are heard and that the Black experience in America will matter in the eyes of the law.
This pilot program is not the end goal. Ford is already working to identify additional high schools across the country to scale and replicate the program, with the goal of having a national presence as quickly as possible.
“I want students of color to pursue the law profession,” said Nelson. “I want to see more of us influencing the law and improving communities through representation and inclusion. I want to help make that change. We should all want to.”