Law Students of the Year: Willie Lyles, III, Southern Illinois University

Willie Lyles III caught the law school bug when working for James E. Clyburn, the assistant Democratic leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. There, he excelled. Within 18 months, Lyles was promoted to legislative assistant advising Congressman Clyburn on education, agriculture and defense.

During his time in Clyburn’s office, Lyles worked with attorneys who were fighting to protect minority contracting programs, which motivated him to pursue a law degree.

Which he did with relish.

“Throughout his time in law school and before, Willie has demonstrated exceptional leadership in many ways,” said Cynthia Fountaine, dean of Southern Illinois University Carbondale School of Law. “In every situation, Willie demonstrates the highest character and outstanding leadership.”

One of his signature efforts is The Carbondale Pipeline Working Group (CPWG), which grew out of Lyles’ idea and commitment to create an intergenerational pipeline that encourages young people from minority communities to seek careers in the legal profession.

As the convener of the working group, Lyles reached out to and organized community leaders, members of the clergy, university faculty, staff, students and alumni. This work led to successful partnerships, including one between the SIU School of Law and the Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale.

The project with the Boys and Girls Club gives SIU School of Law students a chance to introduce young people to life skills and the wide range of careers within the legal profession. Law students meet with youths to discuss topics such as college and careers, privacy, introduction to law and voting.

“The hope is that this will be a pipeline of engaging youths as young as fourth grade to learn more about careers in the law profession and not only being an attorney,” said Tina Carpenter, director of operations for the Boys and Girls Club. “Career exploration needs to start young so that the youths can start planning how they will get to their dream. If youths start setting goals and have the assistance of mentors as to what steps do they need to take to meet those goals, their chances of success are greater.”

Lyles is one of 25 future lawyers honored in the National Jurist’s 2017 “Law Student of the Year” feature. Find more honorees here

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