The Legal Education Opportunities Program at University of Wisconsin Law School is a thriving program for the recruitment, retention and success of law students of color.
LEO’s stated purpose is to recruit and retain students of color and those from other traditionally disadvantaged groups, but its objective is more far-reaching. The program provides an informal academic and social support network for its students while they are in law school, and beyond. And as Dean Margaret Raymond says, the program also helps ensure the Law School’s well-being. “We know we’re a stronger, more sustainable law school when we include the best scholars from a multitude of backgrounds, who bring with them diversity in thought and talent.”
Today the LEO Program is part of the character of the Law School. Its five constituent organizations unite the interests of LEO students: Black Law Students Association (BLSA); Latino/a Law Student Association (LLSA); Asian Law Student Association (ALSA); Indigenous Law Student Association (ILSA); and Middle Eastern Law Students Association (MELSA). Student representatives from each group, along with appointed faculty members, serve on the LEO Committee, which governs the program.
Perhaps the most visible student activity is planning the LEO Banquet, traditionally held each spring. More than 300 people attend the banquet each year, including many alumni, lawyers, judges, and politicians. It is also an event to which prospective students are invited.
LEO owes its start to law students, who led the campaign more than 50 years ago to recruit students from traditionally underrepresented groups to UW Law School.
Much of the credit for the program’s early success belongs to one student in particular, Jim Miles ’69. As secretary-treasurer and later president of the Student Bar Association (SBA), Miles gathered information on minority recruitment programs from other leading law schools, and then drafted a Wisconsin plan. He would later spearhead efforts to raise scholarship funds and conduct recruiting trips to colleges around the country.
Miles’s work, together with law students and faculty committed to the LEO cause, won widespread praise. By 1968, the American Bar Association had named the SBA at UW Law School the best in the country, largely due to its execution of the LEO vision.
The LEO Program continues to thrive, with more than 1,500 lawyers counting themselves as alumni. They serve their communities in every capacity, from law schools and government work to nonprofits and public interest law to private firms.
LEO Alumni Spotlight:
Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice
Founder and Managing Director
Generation Growth Capital, Inc.
Michelle Ramirez Lopez
Senior Vice President & Employment Counsel
Burnele Venable Powell
University of South Carolina School of Law
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Ricardo J. Soto
Deputy General Counsel
San Diego Unified School District
Leticia S.E. Haynes
Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity
Ho-Chunk Nation Department Of Justice