By Catrina Satterwhite
One of the popular fields to study is the law. Every person should have the same opportunity when entering this field, however, most people know that Big Law is a boys club. What’s Big Law? It’s basically a group of large, high-revenue law firms located in cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The firms normally have multiple branches, sometimes in smaller cities, as well as an international presence. With their size also comes a certain level of prestige.
So, with a firm being so large, why isn’t there more diversity? A question we still find ourselves asking. When it comes to women and minorities, it takes double the work to get a foot into corporate law. Many strides have indeed been made, but our work is never done. Diversity and funding for this career are the main issues.
Imani Maatuka is making strides to bring awareness to this issue. She is a young, Gen Z attorney who is making strides to change the idea that Big Law is a boys club. She is currently a commercial litigator at a prestigious law firm where Michelle met Barack Obama, Sidley Austin. She also graduated at the top of her class. She is the youngest at her firm. Imani, give yourself a pat on the back!
Getting into law school can be a lot to digest. So how does one begin this journey?
“First, you have to go to a four-year accredited undergraduate school and in the best case scenario, you do very well. When you’re applying to law school they are usually looking for an LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) score, a high GPA, and several recommenders, and you draft a personal statement. That’s the entirety of the law school admissions process,” Imani said.
This is only the admission part though. The entire program takes about seven years to complete with undergrad. Imani’s background was rooted in law as her mother is a practicing attorney in Illinois, as well as her aunt, uncle, and godfather. Therefore, it wasn’t a question of going to law school, but when. Her younger brother is currently attending.
“Just from an admissions standpoint, applying to law school is unbelievably expensive so that’s actually what kind of got us creating the scholarship fund in the first place because these application fees on their own can be upwards of a few hundred dollars. If you think about it, you’re not just applying to one law school at a time. So, that can easily get to a thousand dollars to a couple of thousand dollars just to apply,” she said.
There have also been strides made with LSAT testing since it has also been a barrier. A lot of schools have either done away with this test altogether or said it was optional. Imani admits that she comes from a ton of privilege and will always recognize that.
“I was studying three to four hours a day and so that’s a huge bulk of time and maybe someone has to work a part-time job or take care of their children. That alone is just a huge expense. This is why we pulled this money together and this fund to ease that burden and really democratize this entire law admission process,” Imani said.
Imani stresses that law school is really hard to prepare for as well. It is the one type of schooling that is so different from what a quintessential student is used to. You have one test at the very end of the semester and it’s not like you’re given a textbook with these explanations of this is the rule or this is not the rule. Instead, you’re given casebooks.
Of course, the biggest thing is the financial burden on students who are not privileged and the lack of diversity. Imani discovered through her classmates that there were internships that could assist students. She considered this a problem indicating an illusion of choice. What you aren’t aware of, you can’t utilize.
We are used to viewing the attorneys as the ones we see on TV in front of a judge but you can take your position a lot further. It’s not a one-track destination. But, what we are seeing is a lack of law students pursuing routes outside of public interest, which is what most scholarships offer. Imani wants to help support those who want to pursue big law or other areas outside of public interest roles.
“While I was at Washington University, we realized this lack of understanding and knowledge. We basically created this fund with the idea of paying it forward. Every single person that you speak to no matter what industry they are in, no matter their level of success didn’t get there by themselves. It takes a village and so we recognize that and we recognize how many people we had during our law school admissions process. How many people did we have while we were trying to get into big law trying to get that first big summer associate position and so we wanted to be that for the next generation”
Bridging the Gap has already awarded four students, which is so awesome!
To apply for the Bridging the Gap Scholarship,you must attend a four-year accredited university, show commitment to academic excellence, and have the desire to pursue a career in big law.
You can apply for the scholarship below which will open back up in 2023!
Bridging The Gap Scholarship