|Pictured from left to right are Hector J. Garcia, UTPA senior majoring in English from McAllen; Juan Sandoval, UTPA senior majoring in political science from McAllen; and Veronica Esmeralda Bernal; UTPA junior double majoring in political science and sociology from Pharr, during the UTPA’s Law School Preparation Institute class.|
“The initial goal of LSPI was to create more competitive students for the law school admission process,” said Dr. Jerry Polinard, UTPA pre-law adviser and LSPI director.
However, the goal has broadened.
“After LSPI, students might realize that law school isn’t for them. Therefore, this program is also designed to improve their skills and make them better students overall no matter what they choose to do,” Polinard said.
The LSPI was first implemented at The University of Texas at El Paso in 1998 and later began at UTPA in 2001 following the Hopwood vs. Texas court decision prohibiting the use of race and ethnicity in admission procedures to law school. The University of San Antonio would implement it in 2002.
LSPI is a strategy of the University of Texas System Law School Partnership Task Force to increase the number of minority students applying to law school, in particular The University of Texas Law School. When the Hopwood decision was overturned in 2003, none of the universities were willing to abandon the program due to its success rate.
“The percentage of students who participate in the program at UTPA and get accepted into law school are 90 percent, plus,” Polinard said. “The national average of students who apply to law school and get accepted is 60 percent. We are running 30 percent higher than the national average,” he said.
Students who participate in LSPI are evaluated and taught at a graduate level. The classes enhance and develop their analytical abilities, logical thinking and writing skills. Students use law textbooks to help prepare for law school. They will also take diagnostic Law School Admission Tests, as well as receive test preparation from Kaplan Test Preparation Corporation.
“The LSAT requires preparation and is very demanding, but our student’s scores are significantly higher than those who do not participate in LSPI,” Polinard said.
Ferjie Hontanosas, a junior majoring in communication studies says she is receiving a better understanding of law and what it means to be a lawyer.
“Law is so broad, but with these classes and the work I have a better understanding of why I want to be a lawyer,” she said. “It’s challenging and competitive, but the preparation will help me approach law school differently with more confidence and a higher chance of succeeding and being the best.”
Other students, like junior, psychology and philosophy major, Michelle Eubanks, are not certain that law school is in their future. However, she hopes that by attending LSPI she can make a decision.
“LSPI has been interesting and I am enjoying it, but I am not sure if law is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Eubanks said. “I come to class though with an open mind and I know for sure, no matter my decision, the skills I am learning will help me be a better student in class and will help me improve my time management,” she said.
Students are selected according to their academic record and written essay. Students in any major who possess a 3.0 GPA or higher and 45 hours of completed credit are invited to apply. The selection process is competitive, with only 20 students selected. At the end of the institute students will receive six hours of credit in a political science course.
The institute is conducted by three faculty members – Polinard, Dr. Greg Gilson, philosophy professor and Dr. John Darcy, who possesses a law degree and is a professor for accounting in law. They are assisted by faculty and staff from The University of Texas Law School, Southern Methodist University, Baylor University, University of Houston and Texas Tech University Law.
A glass enclosed case on display at the Social and Behavioral Science building is filled with law school acceptance letters from former LSPI participants. The letters are from the law schools of, The University of Texas, Pepperdine University, Hamline University, Texas Tech University and Georgetown University – all evidence of the program’s positive impact.
“The rates of success are proof that LSPI does exactly what it was designed to do,” Polinard said.
For more information on LSPI, call Polinard at 956/381-3342.