SWEL Event Fosters Diversity in the Legal Profession

According to the American Bar Association’s 2022 Profile of the Legal Profession, just 4.5% of lawyers are Black. The Summer Work Experience in Law (SWEL) program aims to significantly raise that percentage.

For thirty-five years, SWEL has been helping African American students, primarily from Ohio high schools and colleges, make informed decisions about entering law school and the legal profession. SWEL Scholars explore their interest in law by completing nine-week paid internships with public or private-sector employers in Ohio. The Scholars also gain knowledge about the skills essential for law school and the legal profession, such as the law school admissions process, networking, and career options.

The University of Tennessee College of Law connected with SWEL through the efforts of J. Phenise Poole (’95 UT Knoxville), past president of the UT Knoxville Alumni Board of Directors. A visit was scheduled, and at sunrise on July 18, 2023, dozens of enthusiastic and committed SWEL Scholars—with chaperones Jim Johnson, a founder of SWEL, and Carol Martin—departed Cincinnati, Ohio by charter bus for Knoxville.

In his welcoming remarks, Dean Lonnie Brown emphasized the role of law as an engine for social change and the unique obligations of lawyers to seek justice and protect the rights of all members of society. He also affirmed pipeline programs such as SWEL as an important tool to help diversify the legal profession.

Professor and Clinic Director Joy Radice later engaged the SWEL Scholars as prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges in a simulated appellate argument. Radice commended their efforts, noting that in all her years working with this simulation, the Scholars’ sophisticated analysis and arguments were second to none.

The work of SWEL in preparing these select students for law school and future careers was “impressively obvious” to Professor Michelle Kwon, UT Law’s interim associate dean for diversity, inclusion, and community engagement. Kwon said she “was floored by the maturity, confidence, and enthusiasm” of the SWEL Scholars.

Following the simulation exercise, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Brad Morgan (’05 UT Law) and Interim Director of Career Services Carol Anne Long (’00 UT Law and ’97 UT Knoxville) presented UT Law employment outcome data, profiling some of the college’s outstanding alumni to highlight available career options, as well as the power of a UT Law degree.

The event was a win-win for SWEL and UT Law, in Kwon’s view. “SWEL Scholars were able to interact with some of our faculty and students, and we had the opportunity to showcase the law school’s various points of pride, including our nationally-ranked clinical program and our impressive employment outcomes,” she said.

Kwon hopes the event blossoms into a continuing partnership between UT Law and SWEL. “Our aim is to provide an enriching learning experience that hopefully will reinforce the Scholars’ interest in pursuing a career in law, ideally by one day attending the College of Law.”