MORGANTOWN -- A new program at the West Virginia University College of Law was created to help prepare students to be leaders in West Virginia communities.

The Academic Excellence Program Director, Grace Wigal, said the Summer Law Institute was funded by the WVU Department of Extended Learning in hopes to inspire students who may think a law degree is out of reach.

"Our goal is to inspire great undergraduate students to become leaders in West Virginia communities, encourage them to get a law degree and give them professional tools for the workforce," Wigal said.

If the students choose a different program instead of law, they will still have learned professional skills from the program, Wigal said.

"There will be all kinds of learning going on during the program, but it won't all be in a classroom," Wigal said. "They will also meet lawyers, law students and professors; visit courtrooms; tour the WVU campus and Morgantown; and go shopping for professional courtroom clothing."

Wigal said the students will receive a small stipend for the shopping trip after attending a class on how to dress for success as a lawyer.

The students will also spend time learning how to read statues, understand case law, meet and interview clients, make an oral argument and represent clients.

"Lawyers are professional writers," Wigal said. "They spend the bulk of their days writing documents, which is why these students will learn about interviewing clients and have the opportunity to write briefs and make oral arguments."

Wigal said the students will compete against each other in a Grammar Bee and a job interview, among other things, for prizes.

The expense-paid Summer Law Institute consists of a one-week immersion course at the College of Law and a one-week internship in a law office as a legal intern.

Wigal said she hopes for additional funding in the future to expand the program and hopes to bring this summer's students back next summer for LSAT preparation and the law school application process.

The Summer Law Institute's first session will begin June 6 with 20 students. Students were chosen from colleges and universities throughout the state.

"I contacted undergraduate schools in the state and spoke to deans, professors, advisers and provosts," Wigal said. "I asked them to nominate students they felt would be good for this program."

Wigal said the students had to have completed their sophomore year and have demonstrated interest in the legal profession, academic success, willingness to work hard to achieve goals and the ability to become a lawyer.

"We were looking for first-generation college students or whose socio-economic status is likely to be a barrier to a professional degree," Wigal said. "We also sought non-traditional students and minorities."

Wigal said the program's sole purpose is to get leaders back into West Virginia communities and inspire people to help their local communities.

"This will be a wonderful experience for the participants," Wigal said. "They will learn so much and will benefit from this even if they end up choosing a different career instead of law."

WVU Communications Director Brian Caudill said the program appeals to people who may have thought a law career was not possible before.

"Some students may have been interested in law, but never thought to pursue it because they may have thought it was not possible," Caudill said.

The students will be housed on-campus in the Evansdale Residential Complex and will be provided with meals and parking.

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