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University of Calgary to offer free LSAT prep for low-income students

By Tina Shaygan and Ashar Memon, April 25 2018 —

The University of Calgary Faculty of Law will begin offering a free Law School Admission Test (LSAT) prep course for “high-potential, low-income” students.

According to the faculty’s director of recruiting and admission Catherine Valestuk, the idea was inspired by similar programs run at the University of Toronto and York University and is sponsored by the law firm Borden Ladner Gervais LLP.

“We know there are access-to-justice issues across the country,” Valestuk said. “We know that some of those are socioeconomic. It’s a small thing in many ways, but it’s an exciting step.”

Valestuk added that the faculty currently has funding to offer the course for three years. She said the 15-week program, which will run over the summer, is best for students looking to take the September LSAT and will provide assistance with law school applications along with preparation for the test.

In addition to teaching LSAT material, Valestuk said the course will feature a panel by current lawyers to talk about their experiences, as well as other “enrichment experiences” to better inform students about the work of lawyers and law students. Valestuk added that the student-run Students’ Legal Assistance program at the U of C has also offered shadowing opportunities for students in the program.

The course will accept 15 applicants this year as the faculty assesses its success, Valestuk said. She added that there will be attendance taken throughout the course and participants have to attend a majority of the sessions in order to remain enrolled in the course.

“We’ll consider it a success if somebody gets into a law school,” Valestuk said. “It doesn’t have to be our law school.”

Valestuk said a “high-potential” student is defined as those with at least a B+ cumulative grade point average in their last two years. Low income cut-offs will be defined by Alberta Student Loans’ guidelines.

Each summer the course will be taught by a current U of C law student. Third-year law student Kaye Booth will be the program’s inaugural instructor. Valestuk said Booth had a “killer” LSAT score and a background in teaching.

“I have no lawyers in my family and met very few lawyers before coming to law school,” Booth said in an email. “I know that if I had more opportunities to meet lawyers and law students, be inside the law school and learn more about what law school would be like, I would have been far less intimidated about my transition into law school.”

Valestuk said that the faculty has more plans to make applying to law school more accessible for students from all backgrounds, some of which will be introduced later this year. Valestuk said programs such as the Student Assistance Fund offer $5,000 upon demonstrated financial need for things such as travel expenses for family illness or bereavement, tuition support or medical and dental expenses. She said students with financial need can also apply for a Differential Tuition Bursary that can reduce the cost of tuition for them.

She added that more law schools around North America are recognizing the role of diversity in keeping law schools and the greater legal community more relevant to the general population.

“We know that a diverse student body is a good thing,” Valestuk said. “We know that having students from lots of different backgrounds and different perspectives makes for a more vibrant learning environment and a better law school.”

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