We sat down with 2L Talia Scott, the founder of Legally BLK Fund, to discuss the origins of her nonprofit, her new grant from Squarespace, and her goals for the fund as well as the women it will support in the legal profession.
AALM: Tell us about the origins behind the Legally BLK Fund.
TS: The idea behind the Legally BLK Fund (LBF) came to mind on June 17, 2020, and I launched it the following day. Feeling successful after taking the LSAT in June 2020, I reflected on my journey to that point and was shocked to realize that I had spent about $5,000 in LSAT preparation, incurring credit card debt to support me in the process. Throughout my process, the cost of applying to law school was a source of stress. I realized that if the financial costs of the application process were a barrier for me, they were probably a barrier for other young Black women. I then knew that I wanted to find a way to support Black women with aspirations of entering the legal profession.
Earlier that week, I spoke to a few mentors about my frustration with how expensive and inaccessible the process of applying to law feels and conveyed feelings about the need for more diverse representation in the law. Five percent of attorneys in the U.S. are Black, and only about 2% of attorneys in the U.S. are Black women. Many people do not know these percentages or know that the average Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) score for a Black applicant is a 142, eleven points lower than the 153 average for white and Asian test-takers. Performance on the LSAT is one of the most important factors, if not the most important factor, considered in law school admissions.
As I thought about the lack of representation in law, I constantly thought about these percentages and the recent protests of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, which took an emotional toll on me. In light of the continued injustice and questions regarding whether their killers will be held accountable and if the District Attorney would bring the appropriate charges, I thought about the need for more Black attorneys, especially Black women in law. However, I realized there was a point of convergence in my reflection.
To increase the percentage of Black people and Black women in law, we would have to reduce some barriers to even getting into law school, starting at the pre-law or application process. I decided to launch the Legally BLK Fund in honor of Juneteenth with the initial goal of raising $5,000 to support the legal aspirations of five Black women. I imagined that Legally BLK Fund would be a one-time initiative, but that quickly changed with the success and response I received. We received 100+ applications when the 2020 LBF scholarship application launched.
AALM: How surprised were you when you exceeded your goals for your social campaign so quickly? What was the thought process to transform the fund into an ongoing nonprofit?
TS: I was extremely shocked when I learned that I exceeded the goal for my social campaign, but I was also extremely proud. When I raised the first $1,000 within an hour, I cried at my desk for two hours, feeling delighted that the Legally BLK Fund was becoming a reality. While I raised $10,000 in three days and $17,000 by the end of the campaign, it was still hard to fathom the amount of support I received.
The influx of donations reflected a larger commitment to helping Black women get into law school and succeed in the legal profession. Most importantly, I never imagined giving back by supporting my peers while also going through the law school application process at the same time. I always imagined that I would create something like the Legally BLK Fund once I felt more established. However, being able to lift as I climb has been the most fulfilling experience ever.
… being able to lift as I climb has been the most fulfilling experience ever.
When the news of the Legally BLK Fund scholarship broke on social media and in the legal community more generally, I received an endless amount of emails and direct messages from Black women across the country who expressed gratitude and thanked me for creating such a much-needed initiative and also let me know that they were excited to apply to law school in the following years because Legally BLK Fund now existed. And that’s when it clicked for me. The need was endless, and to be able to provide more long-lasting support in the future to more Black women, I needed to change the structure and form a nonprofit so that I could serve more people, allow people to make tax-deductible donations, become eligible for grants and so much more benefits associated with nonprofit status.
The kind messages of support and gratitude reminded me that the Legally BLK Fund was bigger than me and my journey – it was now part of my legacy and aligned with all those who would come after me or came before me. When I decided that I wanted to transform the fund into a 501c3, Proskauer Rose LLP took me on as a pro bono client, and the rest was history.
AALM: What are some of the barriers to the legal profession unique to Black women? How do you hope to help eliminate or lower those barriers?
TS: Black women often face challenges associated with navigating how to enter the legal profession. Many Black women are often the first in their families to attend law school or even attend college and struggle with navigating the law school process and understanding how to succeed in law school or even where to start. There are often many questions about what competitive stats are for the various law schools, how to get access to scholarship opportunities or stand out as an applicant, and how to study and do well in law school. But there are also questions about how to advocate for yourself at work or succeed in different industries where there aren’t significant mentorship opportunities from other Black women or women of color.
Additionally, applying to law school and attending law school is extremely expensive. For Black women from low-income backgrounds, costs can be a major barrier to applying to law school and attending. Moreover, there are often fewer systems of support in place, and they often have to navigate such a hard journey on their own.
Legally BLK Fund is working to help eliminate and lower these barriers by closing the information gap that exists in the law school application process and law school through tailored programming and mentorship while also providing financial assistance so that cost does not deter Black women from applying to law school. The goal is to create a community where Black women feel supported and empowered to enter the legal profession successfully, understanding that they are not alone. However, the work does not stop once Black women enter the profession and finish law school. The legal profession still experiences issues with the hiring, advancement, and retention of Black women and issues surrounding implicit and explicit bias.
There’s still so much structure needed to cultivate supportive and healthy environments for Black women to thrive in the legal profession. Too often, Black women are left trying to survive in environments not always conducive to their mental health and well-being or their professional development. I hope that the Legally BLK Fund can continue having honest conversations with various legal stakeholders about the improvements that need to be made while working to create partnerships that recognize and uplift Black women in law.
AALM: Tell us what support you offer the women selected to be LBF fellows. How do you hope to expand that support in years to come?
TS: Each Legally BLK Fund scholarship recipient receives a $1,000 scholarship grant, a mentor who is a woman of color in law, and direct application support, including resume and personal statement editing, financial aid workshops, and guidance related to all things law school. In the future, I hope to increase the scholarship grant amount and number of recipients while also providing internal law school admissions consulting, LSAT private tutoring and courses, and programming and support for law school, including internship placement opportunities. The dream is for Legally BLK Fund to one day provide scholarships to law school, programs for high school students of color interested in law, and have partnerships with the top law firms across the country who are also invested in supporting our members.
AALM: Tell us about the team at Legally BLK Fund – board members and mentor volunteers.
TS: Danielle Logan is the treasurer and a board member at Legally BLK Fund. She is an attorney at one of the largest music companies in the world and has been an instrumental part of the growth of the Legally BLK Fund. The complete Legally BLK Fund board will be announced in August 2022. We have an amazing lineup of Black women committed to increasing the representation of Black women in law and are excited to join us in this mission. Many of our mentors are Black women in various sectors of the legal profession: public interest, Big Law, in-house, and so much more! One of our mentors, Endi Piper, recently took on a new role as general counsel of Lebron James’ The Springhill Company. She’s had such an amazing career journey and serves as an example that Black women attorneys can make it to executive positions and exceed in those positions. The hope is that LBF scholarship recipients start to reimagine what’s possible for them in law school and beyond by having such amazing and inspirational mentors for guidance and support.
AALM: Tell us about some of the women selected as fellows.
TS: We currently have 20 Legally BLK Fund Scholarship recipients. It’s an amazing group of women who are some of the hardest working and resilient individuals I know, all of whom will be the first in their families to attend law school. One of our 2021 scholarship recipients, Iesha, applied to 10 T-14 law schools, received acceptance to all of them and will be attending Yale Law in the fall. She’ll join another LBF recipient, Alyssa, who is a rising 2L at YLS. Princess, a 2020 LBF recipient, is a rising 2L at Howard Law and a Marshall Mottley Scholar, and Gerthania, also a 2020 recipient, will be joining Princess at Howard Law in the fall.
I am confident that the LBF members will also change the legal profession’s future. They are just as passionate about building a strong pipeline and network of Black women committed to holding the door open for future generations of Black women in law. I’m excited about the prospect of our current members serving as mentors once they’ve graduated from law school and entered the legal profession.
AALM: Tell us a little bit about you. What drew you to attend law school? What are your professional aspirations?
TS: I was born and raised in Harlem, New York, and a product of the NYC public system. In many ways, I saw how the law failed my community – in education, the criminal justice system, and access to adequate health care. However, the most transformative experience was being the child of an undocumented immigrant. My mother came to the U.S. from Liberia when she was 9 years old, and the rest of my family followed in the wake of the Second Liberian Civil War when I was almost 1 year old.
I spent my middle school and high school years helping my mother navigate the legal system, witnessed her feel stuck and uncertain of her future because of her citizenship status, and helped her get connected to an amazing immigration law firm in New York. The firm helped her obtain her green card, and once she was eligible, we began her citizenship application. I had the privilege of completing her N-400, the U.S. citizenship application, and then embracing her outside the courthouse where she was sworn in as a U.S citizen last fall during my first semester at NYU Law. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
I was initially drawn to attend law school because I had a first look into the power of the law and how inaccessible it could be for women, minorities, immigrants, and other groups who may not understand the legal system or their rights under the law. I was inspired to pursue law to be an advocate, change agent, and a much-needed voice in one of the most elitist professions.
Before law school, I was a Questbridge Scholar at Haverford College’19 and worked as a banking and credit paralegal for two years at a law firm in New York. I’m currently a rising 2L and dual AnBryce and Jacobson scholar at NYU Law. I am also one of the co-chairs of the Black Allied Law Students Association (BALSA). Following law school, I hope to start my career in BigLaw doing transactional work, with aspirations of clerking for a federal judge and continuing to expand the Legally BLK Fund.
AALM: Did you receive any mentorship during your application process?
TS: As the first lawyer in my family, I relied heavily on mentorship in the law school application process. I received mentorship from LBF board member Danielle Logan and support from many other Haverford College alumni who are attorneys. I also had the privilege of receiving guidance from many attorneys that I worked with during my time as a paralegal and in other previous roles who helped me study for the LSAT, write a personal statement, and navigate the law school application process overall. I am also extremely grateful for the Black women I met on social media or LinkedIn, for example, who became mentors, answered any questions I had about applying to law school, and reminded me that I would go to a great law school.
AALM: Tell us about your reaction when you learned LBF was named a winner of the 2022 Make It Awards?
TS: I received the news about the 2022 Make it Awards from John Starks of the NY Knicks. It was a surreal moment; I couldn’t believe that the MSG and Squarespace teams, as well as the judges, believed in me and the vision I have for the Legally BLK Fund. I’ve often been told that I would not be able to be a successful law student and also run a nonprofit simultaneously. Winning such an amazing award that would shape the future of the organization and allow me to expand, while also gaining a summer associate position at a top 10 law firm around that same time, was the proof that I needed as an example that my hard work and the late nights were worth it.
It was truly special to share the moment with my mother, who encouraged me to apply for the award, as I doubted my chances of winning. It also felt like a full-circle moment – I started the Legally BLK Fund with a simple Instagram post, encouraging my friends and family to share and spread the word about the initiative. When I learned that I was a finalist, I also took to social media, calling on my network to vote for me on Squarespace’s Twitter, and they did just that and helped me bring in the most likes and retweets of the social voting competition.
AALM: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
TS: My goal is to establish the Legally BLK Fund as a well-known and renowned organization that becomes the go-to place for Black women interested in applying to law school and success in law school and their careers. Moreover, I hope that LBF has the resources to help cultivate hundreds and thousands of Black women attorneys while also creating a professional pipeline that employers also recruit from and invest in. I am excited about the impact that the Legally BLK Fund has had so far and will continue to have on the legal community. The goal is to raise that 2%, and I think we’re on our way to doing that!
I am still looking for board members for the Legally BLK Fund. If you are committed to the progression of Black women in the legal profession, please contact me at [email protected].