|Pictured at the check presentation ceremony celebrating a grant to UTPA from the Texas Bar Foundation to support the UTPA Law School Preparation Institute (LSPI) are left to right: Dr. John Darcy, professor and LSPI co-director; Velinda Reyes, director of Corporate and Foundation Relations; Dr. Walter Diaz, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences; Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, UTPA president; Alejandra Martinez, LSPI graduate; Lorena Castillo, Texas Bar Foundation trustee; Veronica Gonzales, vice president for University Advancement; Lydia Aleman, associate vice president for University Advancement; and Dan Worthington, attorney and Texas Bar Foundation Fellow.|
Initiated in 2001, LSPI has continually yielded success, boasting a 90 percent acceptance rate for LSPI graduates who apply to law school, averaging much higher than the national acceptance rate of 60 percent.
Over the years, numerous LSPI graduates have been accepted to law schools across the country, including Texas Tech University, Southern Methodist University and St. Mary's University as well as The University of California at Berkeley, Indiana University, Penn State and Georgetown University, among many others.
Attorney and Texas Bar Foundation Fellow Dan Worthington (BA '85) said the Foundation has been impressed with LPSI's success in preparing students and how it supports the Foundation's mission to serve the civil justice system and the Rio Grande Valley, which he said is often underserved.
“What this program [LSPI] does, is it helps get the students get ready for law school and if they succeed in law school, they will get a better opportunity for employment and ... a lot of those students will return to the Valley as lawyers. That's why, to us, it seemed an appropriate investment," he said.
Through LSPI students are prepared for the LSAT, introduced to legal research and writing, and review selected law cases to help develop their analytical, argumentative and critical reading and writing skills. They also discuss the admissions process into law school and receive assistance in selecting and applying to law schools.
“LSPI makes our students aware of the opportunities available to them to pursue careers in law and other careers outside of law. It’s a very disciplined program that requires a great commitment and so it introduces students to study at a level of rigor that they don’t see at the undergraduate level,” said Dr. John Darcy, accounting and business law professor and LSPI co-director.
LSPI's interdisciplinary team of instructors also includes UTPA faculty members Dr. Jerry Polinard, political science professor, and Dr. Erik Anderson, philosophy lecturer. Polinard, who has directed the program since its inception and is UTPA's pre-law adviser, was honored in 2013 by the Pre-Law Advisors National Council with the Gerald Lee Wilson Award for Excellence in Pre-Law Advising.
Since many students who apply to the program balance a full-time work and school schedule, the $1,000 stipend will serve as a necessary incentive for students who have to either quit their job or take a leave of absence during the duration of the course described as "highly demanding."
"It’s like an emersion; they’re there all day, which means that many of them, if they work, can’t work the hours that they usually work. So, that support is very, very important to the success of the program,” said Dr. Walter Diaz, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. "The gift enables us to have a more sustainable program and to be able to provide the LSPI students the full support that they need."
LSPI graduate Alejandra Martinez (BA '13), who is currently balancing her job as a Chick-fil-A manager while studying for her LSAT, said she valued most the relationships she established with LSPI instructors, particularly Polinard, and the advice and mentorship she has received from them.
Martinez will be taking her LSAT in September and, depending on the outcome of her score, plans to apply to her top choice law school, UT Austin School of Law, as well as every law school in Texas and a few out-of-state law schools, she said.
“It’s important to continue having this program because we get an advantage over others; it looks great on our résumé. I know a lot of the administrators who accept these students know what the program is and they’re actually looking for students who have taken this program,” she said.
Since its inception in 1965, the Texas Bar Foundation has awarded more than $15 million in grants to law-related programs. Supported by members of the State Bar of Texas, the Texas Bar Foundation is the nation’s largest charitably funded bar foundation. The Foundation targets five general program areas including legal services for the underserved, education of the Third Branch of government, ethics and professionalism in the legal profession, administration of justice and victim services.
For more information on LSPI, contact the Department of Political Science at (956) 665-3341. For more information on giving opportunities at UT Pan American, contact the Office of Development at email@example.com or (956) 665-5301.