New book helps students from diverse backgrounds thrive in law school

The Guide to Belonging in Law School, a new book by Prof. Russell McClain, was published by West Academic Press in July.

The text, which addresses students from diverse backgrounds about to begin law school, offers a “mini-immersion,” in the law school experience with step-by-step instructions on everything from reading a judicial opinion to preparing for exams. Most notable, however, is McClain’s inclusion of tools to help students from groups historically underrepresented in the legal profession overcome obstacles to thriving in law school.

“For decades, the legal profession has excluded people of color and women and people from non-majority backgrounds,” says McClain, who is the law school’s associate dean for diversity and inclusion. “The book is meant to help people who view themselves or think others view them as outsiders.”

McClain infuses exercises designed to address some of the psychological dynamics, such as implicit bias and stereotype threat, that can interfere with learning, and supplies strategies for interrupting those obstacles. He also intersperses “We Belong” narratives about lawyers from a range of backgrounds, offering stories and advice—all aimed at guiding readers toward developing a sense of belonging.

“Belonging is essential to success,” explains McClain. “If you feel as though you belong in an environment, you are more likely to succeed. It will affect your choices about what risks you are willing to take, how you respond to success, and how you handle those temporary bumps in the road we mistakenly call failure.”

As well as demystifying law school, the text serves as a framework from which McClain drew to teach an intensive, three-week summer course called Introduction to Law School for accepted students at Maryland Carey Law. Additionally, McClain developed a companion website (, featuring supplemental materials, videos of real classroom instruction, and other information created to work along with the text.

McClain, who refers to his own performance in high school and college as “mediocre” says he blossomed intellectually in law school, graduating Order of the Coif from Maryland Carey Law in 1995. His own experience of an “academic awakening” informs his research and motivates him to pave the way toward a sense of belonging for all students. With a scholarly interest in the psychological factors that affect academic performance, his research explores whether stereotype threat (the fear of confirming negative group stereotypes) and implicit bias (subconscious categorizations that are biased against racial/ethnic minorities and women) work together to suppress the performance of these groups in higher education, including in law school. 

McClain is also the author of  “Helping Our Students Reach Their Full Potential: The Insidious Consequences of Ignoring Stereotype Threat” in the Rutgers Race and the Law Review and “Bottled at the Source, Recapturing the Essence of Academic Support as a Primary Tool of Education Equity for Minority Law Students” in the Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender, and Class.

Before McClain came to Maryland Carey Law in 2006, he taught at Howard University School of Law and worked as a civil litigator for 10 years in Los Angeles. Along with teaching and serving as associate dean for diversity and inclusion, he is also director of the Academic Achievement Program, which focuses on assisting with the academic development of Maryland Carey Law students. 

“It is my personal mission to help others have the breakthrough I had in law school—unlocking their full potential,” says McClain. “I honestly believe that if I succeeded in law school, anyone can.”

Share this article