The decision to pursue law school after undergrad is one that crosses the minds of countless college students each year. With all the options available, it’s hard to know what path is right for you. However, for University of Maryland graduate Bari Steel, B.A. ’21, deciding on the University of Miami School of Law was simple.
A Passion for the Law
Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia with two lawyers as parents, Steel was always familiar with law. “I kind of [grew] up around the law, and I never really thought I wanted to go to law school.” But it was by her own devices and a genuine fascination that sparked her interest in criminal law. “I started reading some books and started getting into really some true crime stuff.”
From there, Steel began enrolling in courses related to these interests. She was especially appreciative of the valuable knowledge she gained from criminology and journalism classes at UMD, including CCJS370: Race, Crime, and Criminal Justice and JOUR284: Scandal: Exposing Corruption, Justice, and Vice in America.
Getting Involved & Gaining Experience
As an undergraduate, Steel took advantage of opportunities to get experience and make meaningful connections in the legal world. “I was a member of Phi Alpha Delta, Maryland, which is a pre-law fraternity. It did introduce me to a lot of other people who were like-minded as me and were interested in the law, which was a great experience.” In addition to Greek life, Steel also landed legal internships at public defenders’ offices, where she could apply her skills in a real-world setting.
After graduation, Steel could see herself as a successful lawyer and knew that law school was her next step. Classes were tough, but she felt prepared for the next phase of her legal career journey. “It definitely takes a lot of thinking. You have to be very open-minded, be able to see multiple points of view, be able to see all the sides of everything. If you want to do well in the law, that’s what you have to do.”
Choosing Miami Law
When it came time to choosing a law school, Steel took time to consider her options, and she spent the summer before her senior year studying for the LSAT. After applying and receiving acceptance from several schools, she was set on Miami, which was at the “top of the list.”
At the University of Miami School of Law, Steel’s interests manifested, and she found her niche. “I want to do criminal defense. I kind of knew that coming in. All the classes I’ve taken that revolve around that have really solidified my interest. And then, I’ve done a few internships that really have solidified my desire to do criminal defense.”
Miami Law Launching Careers
The professional connections that Miami Law provides is one of the school’s biggest advantages that Steel praises. “The legal community down here […] is very close knit, and especially if you are at University of Miami. If [you] work down here, I feel like […] they automatically love you. It’s a very respected school. People love the University of Miami School of Law, and people love the professors here. The alumni, they’re always very impressed by it.”
At Miami Law, Steel has interned at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and at the Federal Public Defender for the Southern District of Florida. She has also been elected president of the Miami Law Women Student Organization, received a public interest fellowship, and secured a spot on the law school’s moot court competition team.
Networking and gaining insights from these experiences and seasoned legal professionals have given Steel supreme advantages in her career journey. “I think that being involved in all these things have given me these connections so that I’m able to pursue my career goals and ultimately be the best lawyer that I want to be and can be.”
Advice for UMD Students Thinking About Law
Steel believes that a genuine passion for the law should be the driving reason for any student considering pursuing this career. She emphasizes the importance of not viewing your law school experience as a competition, but rather a personal journey to success.
“At the end of the day, it does not matter how much everybody tells you, you’re only going to be able to do what works for you.”
She would tell a prospective law student that, in this profession, hard work definitely pays off. “Anybody who really wants to, can do law school. You just have to want it.”