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Charleston School of Law’s Minority Law Day inspires students to become lawyers

Dennis Muhammad, college success coordinator at Military Magnet Academy, explains to students what to expect when they visit the Charleston School of Law. Buy this photo

Military Magnet Academy counselor Dennis Muhammad wants students to know that they can have a career in law if that’s something that interests them.

Each year, the college access coordinator brings a group of students to Charleston School of Law’s Minority Law Day, hoping to get that message across to them. He’s certain the method is effective, because he was so inspired by the events that two years ago, he enrolled in law school. Muhammad, 42, works at the military school in North Charleston during the day and attends law school at night.

Erica McDaniel, 29, who also is a second-year law student, said the event is for students 13 to 18 years old. Students who attend the daylong event will learn what it takes to prepare for and succeed in law school. They will participate in a mock trial, she said, “where they can practice their lawyering skills.” Space still is available for students, parents, and counselors who want to register, she said.

The event is meant to encourage more blacks and other minorities to pursue careers in law, a field in which they are underrepresented. According to published reports, about 10 percent of U.S. lawyers are minorities, and only about 4 percent are black.

Muhammad said that only 2 percent of lawyers in South Carolina are black. “We need more black lawyers so blacks and other minorities get justice,” he said.

Muhammad said he was particularly moved several years ago when he watched as an eighth-grade student was convicted of murder on evidence he thought was circumstantial.

He tried to help the student’s mother find free or low-cost legal representation for her son, but wasn’t successful. After he completes law school, he will be able to help in such cases, he said. “I can do more than be a character witness.”

Deborah Rivers, 13, is one of Muhammad’s students who will attend the event Saturday. The eighth-grader already knows she wants to be a defense lawyer.

A lot of people don’t like working with people who are considered criminals, she said. But she wants to give back to her community, and help people who have been accused of crimes. “I want to help them to have a voice,” she said.

Muhammad will bring 18 students to the event this year, and most of them are among the first generation in their families to consider college. “Most students don’t see law school or being a lawyer as an option,” he said. But he wants to change that.

He already takes his students to visit four-year college campuses across the state. The visits help students realize that enrolling in higher education is possible for them, he said.

And he thinks that if students have a long-term goal, such as attending law school, it will help them to stay motivated in high school. If students start slacking off a bit in high school, he said, he can remind them that if they want to be lawyers one day, they have to take the tough courses.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.

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