Debate and the Law

Back >

Diversifying the Career Pipeline: SVUDL Law Partnerships

The SVUDL Program

The Silicon Valley Urban Debate League channels the power of voice to engage at-risk youth in rigorous, evidence-based argument and competition. In schools where college-going rates dip below 40%, more than 95% of urban debaters graduate high school and over 90% of graduates go on to college. Over half (54%) plan to pursue careers in law.

Debaters as Future Lawyers

A coalition of leaders across the legal profession has come together to help students realize their dreams of becoming successful lawyers.  As the legal community continues to grapple with diversity challenges, the partnership between the coalition of legal firms and SVUDL is a perfect match to meet the challenge and diversify the legal profession. 

While mentoring is the cornerstone of the coalition’s mission, the impact of SVUDL programs on the legal profession depends on hundreds of students becoming confident researchers, advocates, and thinkers through debate.

Compared to their peers, low-income debaters are...

The Legal Career Mentors Program

Low-income and first-generation students have all the talent to be successful lawyers, but they need support to reach their full potential. The Legal Career Mentors program prepares lawyers to make a real difference in the trajectory of a life, working one-on-one with SVUDL debate students from their junior year in high school to their first year of law school to:

  • Help them select paths to and through college that set them up for success in law school and careers

  • Provide emotional support to help them grow through challenges

  • Give advice on how to craft a rewarding life as a lawyer

All lawyers across Silicon Valley are welcome to sign up to become a mentor. Each mentor receives training and materials from SVUDL and the legal coalition, and gives an hour of their time each month to help a debater navigate the pipeline and find a successful career in law. 

Debaters research, argue, deliberate, and engage with complex policy ideas - over 50% aim for careers in law.

The Case for Urban Debate as a Career Pipeline Intervention

In 20 cities, Urban Debate Leagues help underserved high school students advance to college, graduate, and find career success. No career pathway is more popular among urban debaters than law. No wonder that Inside Counsel recently featured Urban Debate in a front-page article entitled “How Leading Companies Are Prioritizing Diversity Early in the Pipeline,” describing how local programs like SVUDL have worked with law firms to create powerful pipelines for diversity in the legal profession.

Career Pipeline Outcomes

Through debate, students get hooked on reasoned argument and research - 54% of urban debaters plan to pursue a career in law. Students who once struggle to read learn to prepare policy briefs drawn from law reviews, academic articles, and expert testimony.

Volunteers from the legal community equip a critical mass of SVUDL students to diversify the career pipeline. Attorneys serve as judges and mentors, give advice during lunch sessions and firm visits, and form life-long relationships that help students navigate the pathway from high school through law school and into a successful career.

Making an Impact through Debate

Recently, Erwin Chemerinsky, Laurence Tribe and Elena Kagan joined over 40 law school deans and professors from top schools in a Statement of Support endorsing the connection between urban debate and racial and economic diversity in the legal profession. For more on the Statement, click here.

Urban debate reaches youth early, inspires them to dream big, and equips them with the skills, attitudes, and support to achieve their dreams. SVUDL debaters are overwhelmingly students of color (100%) and low income (82%). With your support, these students will help to form a generation of diverse advocates ready to become leaders in the legal profession