By Christina S. Parrish, Esq.*
From late-May to mid-June, high school students across the Commonwealth are dreaming of a summer full of rest, relaxation and summer vacations. This year, a select group of students chose to delay these summer staples in favor of an opportunity to attend the Hill Tucker Pre-Law Institute.
On June 26, 2017, seventeen inquisitive and eager high school students descended upon the campus of the University of Richmond to attend the Oliver Hill/Samuel Tucker Pre-Law Institute. The Institute, an annual program for diverse and academically at-risk high school students across Virginia, provided the students with a positive introduction to the legal system and immersed them in the basic fundamentals of the legal profession through an intensive week of programming and academic exercise.
The Institute featured a robust week of programming. Students enjoyed a guided tour of the Virginia Capitol building. After which, the participants engaged in an exclusive question and answer experience with The Honorable Justice Cleo Powell. Students mixed and mingled with local practitioners during an evening networking reception in the University of Richmond Law School Atrium. Admissions representatives from several Virginia colleges and universities reviewed the college admissions process and offered helpful advice for students with the goal of gaining admission to law school. Five Richmond area attorneys—Colette McEachin, Doug Smith, Nicole Thompson Stock, Rita P. Davis, and Stacy E. Lee—discussed the array of legal practice areas and the many paths to a successful legal career during a very candid career panel. The students even completed a session on etiquette to prepare for the many business lunches and dinners to come in their future, as well as our closing banquet which featured Dr. Dietra Trent, Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Virginia, as keynote speaker.
While managing a robust programming schedule, the students prepared for a mock trial competition throughout the week. Daily workshops provided an introduction to basic trial advocacy skills, such as opening and closing statements, as well as direct and cross examination. The Honorable Manuel Capsalis and The Honorable Michael Lindner from the Fairfax County General District Court reinforced their knowledge base with a special session on trial advocacy from the perspective of the bench. With only four days of preparation, the students thoroughly impressed each volunteer practitioner during the mock trial competition and created memories that will last a lifetime.
Beyond the programming and the academic exercises, the Honorable David Eugene Cheek, Sr. from the Richmond General District Court offered the most impactful aspect of the program, imparting on each student the important legacy of Mssrs. Hill and Tucker. The Hill Tucker Pre-Law Institute was named in honor of famed African American civil rights attorneys Oliver J. Hill and Samuel W. Tucker. In 1940, Mr. Hill began winning cases alongside his colleague and law school classmate, Thurgood Marshall, and was perhaps most recognized for his role in one of the four companion cases in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. Samuel W. Tucker, Esquire, after serving as an officer in the armed forces, later joined Oliver W. Hill’s firm and together they successfully and tirelessly combatted massive resistance to implementation of the Brown decision through a number of significant cases. FN
Judge Cheek shared his personal reflections from working alongside Mr. Oliver Hill and Mr. Samuel Tucker. He passionately impressed upon each student the legacy left by these two trailblazers and the opportunity afforded each student as a result of Mr. Hill and Mr. Tucker’s combined sacrifices and service as distinguished citizen lawyers.
The Institute is offered at no cost to the aspiring student lawyers, long made possible by law firm donations and grants from the Virginia Law Foundation and by funds raised by the Diversity Conference through its predecessor 501(c)(3) Millennium Diversity Initiative. In its first year as a fully funded Conference of the Virginia State Bar, the Hill Tucker Institute is perhaps the most rewarding budgeted item for the Diversity Conference as it continues to further its mission of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. Once again this year, the Diversity Conference is grateful to the Virginia Law Foundation for this year’s grant, without which the continued success of the Institute would not be possible.
Finally, the success of the Institute would not be possible without a dedicated core of volunteer attorneys from the Young Lawyers Conference, the Hill Tucker Bar Association and the Diversity Conference. Since its inception, members of the Young Lawyers Conference have served as chairpersons and organizers of the Institute’s programs. This year the Diversity Conference would like to express its gratitude and appreciation to Co-Chairs Alicia Roberts and Christina Parrish, who dedicated countless hours in preparation for the annual event and then provided guidance and mentorship to the students throughout the week.
Above all, the Institute represents opportunity. Mr. Oliver Hill and Mr. Samuel Tucker labored to ensure that each participant can not only have a seat at the table, but that they are equipped and emboldened to bring their own chairs. While we recognize that five days alone is insufficient to completely summarize the entire practice of law, we are confident that the Hill Tucker Pre-Law Institute lit a fire of curiosity and inspiration in each student that we hope will continue to burn and grow for years to come.
* The author was a director of the 2017 Hill Tucker Pre-Law Institute along with co-director Alicia N. Roberts, Esq. Ms. Parrish practices law at the Richmond, Virginia firm of Boleman Law Firm, PC, and is the current president of the Hill Tucker Bar Association.