BY: 1L Jake Heller, 2L Salimah Khoja, 4L Justine Ortiz, 1L Ashley Toruno, and 1L Arpita Vora | DATE: Sep 02, 2021

The Summer Law Institute (SLI) is a focused intensive for students who would like early exposure to the first-year law student experience in an environment focused on simulation, practice, and skills development.

We spoke with day 1L Jake Heller, evening 2L Salimah Khoja, evening 4L Justine Ortiz, day 1L Ashley Toruno, and evening 1L Arpita Vora on their experiences with the SLI program.  We then caught up with Haley Meade, Director of the Skills Center, Laura Mott, Director of the 1L Evening Skills Program, and Asima Chaudhary, Director of the Evening Skills Program to explore the program from their vantage.

Jake Heller
Day 1L

smiles at camera

I have been working as a journalist, reporting on social justice issues, for the last ten years. I’m incredibly excited to be returning to school, and am particularly looking forward to joining a community of people who are, as Ashley said, dedicated to building a more just and equitable world.

I have already had the opportunity to meet so many extraordinary, passionate, justice-minded (and very friendly!) people — from my professors to my classmates to the school staff — who I know will challenge me, support me, and help me grow over my time here.

I cannot wait to continue to learn from them. I’m definitely open to exploring where my interests take me, but I’m drawn to international human rights, civil rights, First Amendment law, and labor law right now. I think I would ultimately love to work in impact litigation.


Salimah Khoja
Evening 2L

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I am interested in immigration/crimmigration and constitutional law, but also very much interested in exploring immigration policy/legislation work.

Similarly to Jake, I would love to have the opportunity to work on impact litigation.

While I am passionate about these areas, I have been told many times that law school will expand my interests into areas I never before thought of, so I am keeping an open mind as well.



Justine Ortiz
Evening 4L

smile at cameraI received my Master’s in Urban Affairs from Queens College and my Bachelor’s in Science from Fordham University in Psychology.

I work with YAI, an organization that supports people with intellectual/developmental disabilities.

I’m really looking forward to building on CUNY Law’s public interest reputation as a proud alumni.


Ashley Toruno
Day 1L

smile at cameraBeing new to the city, I’m especially looking forward to building community this year.

In the Midwest, I wasn’t taught by many mentors or professors of color, with whom I could identify and share a vision for a more just and equitable world.

What led me to CUNY was the community of advocates and change-makers it fosters. This exceptional community has shined through every step so far, and I am excited to connect further with the CUNY community.

I’m most excited about studying constitutional law!

Arpita Vora
Evening 1L

smile at cameraAfter five years of working post-undergrad, I’m really looking forward to getting back into the classroom (virtually, for now) and engaging in the type of deep learning that I have only experienced in school.

Equally important to me is building community with my amazing colleagues in the day and evening programs, as well as with CUNY Law faculty and staff — all of whom seem dedicated to doing what they can to create a more just and equitable world.

I’m excited to learn about civil rights, international human rights, land/Indigenous rights, and labor/economic justice.


In your own words and experience, what exactly is SLI, and when did you first hear about it?

Ashley: The SLI program helps students build a solid foundation to gain the essential skills needed to excel in law school. Throughout SLI, I appreciated the commitment and investment from CUNY Law in our success as first-year law students, which especially helped me feel supported as a first-generation student.

I first learned about the program from a rising 3L student who I connected with earlier this year. She shared how SLI had really helped her and her fellow classmates get a kick-start understanding of law school as a whole. Her insight on the program and willingness to help encouraged me to connect with CUNY more and apply to the SLI program, as it really spoke to the supportive culture and community at the school.

Jake: SLI is both an invaluable two-week prep course for law school and a manifestation of CUNY Law’s values. On a practical level: We’re introduced to doctrine, the structure of legal writing, case briefing, and even have the chance to talk through more prosaic law school challenges, like note- taking and topics that are too often ignored, such as mental health.

But beyond that, SLI is a principle in the form of a program: It showed me what it means for a school, its professors, and its staff to genuinely prioritize student success. I have honestly never experienced anything like it in my academic life.

A school putting learning above all else shouldn’t be so shocking. But having had the chance to experience it firsthand, I realize how truly transformative and rare it is. There is no ‘sink or swim’ here, only support.

A recent graduate urged me to apply to SLI (thank you, Greg!), and I am so grateful I did. I could think of no better way to have started law school.

Justine: I heard about SLI during the last few months of the Pipeline Program. My understanding of SLI was that it was a two-week program that would help 1L students make a smooth and successful transition into law school. It was definitely that and much more. I left with valuable time-management/outlining skills that carried me through law school.

Tell us a little about the format of SLI. What was your first day like?

Ashley: The format of the program was extremely intentional and met each of us where we were at, in terms of life experiences and academic background. Instead of making assumptions on what we might have come in knowing/not knowing, the program made sure to give us all a shared foundation to start and build from.

On the first day, the instructors incorporated time to build community, provide big picture explanations, and also get started on the coursework for the program. With our class, I appreciated how Professor Meade took the time to incorporate our input on how we would like to shape our learning and understand the main takeaways we were each aiming for in the program.

Jake: A bunch of strangers staring at each other on Zoom. And, then, over a very short amount of time, a group of people who felt comfortable sharing some of our biggest vulnerabilities and life experiences with one another. Professor Meade created an environment where we could take ownership of the program, and offered us the grace to come into it in a way that suited our individual backgrounds.

In introducing herself, she didn’t say “I am your professor, and I will be in charge;” she said, “I am your professor, and this is why I think you can trust me.” That let me know that this was going to be a different kind of school, in the best way.

What were some of your favorite moments during SLI this term? Did anything in particular stand out that solidified your want to study law?

Ashley: I appreciated the time we took in class to describe our various paths to law school, which emphasized the breadth of incredible life experiences we share among us. Taking the time to connect with each other in that way and discuss our shared dreams for the world we’d like to fight for were extremely encouraging!

Jake: As Ashley said, listening to everyone share their life experiences and reasons for coming to law school was profoundly inspiring. I was moved not only by what they said, but by their willingness to share such personal stories with people they had only just met. The word ‘community’ gets thrown around a lot, but I really felt — and continue to feel — that we’re on our way to building a very strong one together.

In fact, my favorite moment of SLI wasn’t even in SLI at all: It was when I finally got to meet some of my SLI classmates in person for the first time, and we were all so excited to see one another!

Salimah: One of my favorite moments during SLI was when we simulated Crim Law with Professor Kirchmeier (SLI 2020). I was so nervous because I was unsure as to how intense it would be. The thought of the cold-calling gave me “cold sweats.”

But honestly, it was a lot of fun to get a sense of what it is like in a low-stakes environment. I also learned in SLI who would be a good study partner(s). Many of my SLI compadres are some of my best friends in law school. I am pretty sure they will be my lifelong friends, as sentimental as that sounds.

Arpita: Some of my favorite moments during SLI were when Laura and Asima would crack silly jokes or make each other (and the rest of us) laugh by simply being themselves. Their behavior helped me feel more relaxed, which felt intentional, but not forced.

When applying to law school, I knew this was the type of environment I wanted to learn in, and these moments affirmed that my decision to pursue my legal education at CUNY Law was the right one.

Justine: I really liked the mock classes and when the rising evening 2L students came to visit. As an incoming evening law student, I struggled hard with imposter syndrome and just general anxiety about whether I would be able to understand the material.

Attending a mock law class before the semester started and having the opportunity to talk to students about their personal experiences were really helpful. It helped me to believe in my abilities and got me to internalize the fact that law school was going to be really hard, but doable.

Aside from exposure to the first-year law experience, how else can incoming 1Ls benefit from participating in SLI? 

Ashley: By participating in SLI, you have the opportunity to build relationships with professors who are dedicated to your academic success. The supportive environment in SLI helped me preview what seeking help in the school year might look like. This helped ease my (many) anxieties I had before starting law school.

Jake: After one day of SLI, I already felt like a different person. Law school introduces you to all kinds of new information, sure, but it also recalibrates your thinking and offers you new perspectives on the world. SLI puts you into this new frame of mind.

It also comes at you fast. In mirroring the mental and emotional pressures that come with being a law student, SLI provides you (and those in your life, because you don’t go to law school alone) with a much-needed, lower-stakes entry point into law school.

Plus, you get to build great relationships with incredible people!

Arpita: One of the biggest benefits of SLI is that it gives you the time and space to ease into law school in a low-pressure environment curated by our talented and thoughtful Skills professors. Laura and Asima did more than simply teach us how to brief cases and outline classes. They also focused on time management and the importance of self-care throughout law school.

We’ve all heard horror stories about pursuing a legal education. SLI taught and reinforced the idea that to excel in law school we should practice balance, not grind ourselves to dust. As an evening student who works full-time during the day, I was worried that the rest of my life would fall by the wayside for the next four years.

Through SLI, I learned that I should actively make space for my life between work and school – this went a long way in easing some of my anxieties about starting law school.

Justine: Time management. As an evening student, time management is key to a successful law school experience. SLI showed me how to outline efficiently (saving me a ton of time), effective time-management skills, and how to set realistic goals for each study session.

What should prospective students know about SLI? What advice do you have for prospectives who are thinking of attending CUNY Law?

Ashley: While considering applying to law school, anytime I sought advice on what made law school so difficult, I mostly would get vague, broad answers on three years of challenging coursework. However, I was in search of gaining a deeper understanding of what made the courses challenging and what skills would most help me as a student.

Given that I knew law school would be challenging no matter what, I wanted to see how I could best prepare myself to face those challenges head on. My experience with SLI turned out to provide me with all the answers and advice I was seeking.

The supportive community at CUNY Law has been unlike any other academic environment I’ve been in. I have been encouraged by the genuine and authentic commitment to my success from faculty and staff and look forward to leaning on their support moving forward.

Jake: First: do it.

Maybe this is just the perspective of someone who hasn’t been in school in some time and is excited to return — someone did ask me, incredulous, why I would volunteer for an extra two weeks of law school — but, if you are a prospective law student, why would you not take this incredible opportunity to learn more and better prepare yourself?

For students thinking about attending CUNY, feel free to reach out. I have only just started, but I already know that this is not going to be an experience of “suffering through” law school to get to the other side.

The school’s supportive environment, clear-eyed perspective on why we’re here, and willingness to critique not just the outcomes of society’s unjust systems but the systems themselves make CUNY a unique and special place.

Salimah: Don’t think twice. While it is a whirlwind to start the first year of law school two weeks earlier, it is worth it. You begin to build the foundation that sets the stage for your first year.

You do it with like-minded people, and it is such a welcoming environment. The Academic Support offerings such as SLI and Skills are partly what drew me to CUNY Law.

Arpita: When considering participation in SLI, you might find yourself asking, “Why should I start law school two weeks early?!” My answer to you is: because it’s worth it! Laura and Asima did an amazing job preparing a welcoming learning environment — an especially challenging task in a virtual world.

Even if you don’t quite understand everything in the moment (and don’t worry, you’re definitely not expected to), you’ll see the difference early exposure and reinforcement makes once classes start. Another huge bonus? You get a head start on meeting your incredible classmates and brilliant professors with opportunities to do small-group work and even take practice classes covering material that you will address once the semester starts.

If you’re thinking about attending CUNY Law, I highly encourage you to reach out to students, staff, and/or faculty at the school to learn more about what it’s like to be part of this community. I would also advise you to put some serious thought into what you want out of your law school experience.

With CUNY Law’s focus on public interest, you will be surrounded by many thoughtful, justice-oriented individuals who will push you to learn more about the world and grow into a more compassionate, mindful version of yourself. Every member of the community is supportive and looks out for each other. If that sounds like the right environment for you, I hope you’ll decide to join us!

Justine: If you’re interested in getting a head start on law school, sign up for the SLI program. It’s really that simple.

Is there anything that surprised you about your experience? Positive/negative/neutral?

Ashley: I was surprised by how open and honest the instructors were in answering all of our questions, which was extremely helpful as we stepped into many unknowns. Professor Meade genuinely helped ease our anxieties and was extremely interested in making sure all our questions were always answered, no matter how big or how small.

Jake: I’m honestly surprised by how surprised I am. I had heard so many great things about CUNY, but was still nervous and apprehensive coming in. I shouldn’t have been. I cannot overemphasize how transformative SLI’s genuine commitment to student learning is, and what it says about CUNY’s pedagogical philosophy as a whole. Why can’t law school be both challenging and fun?

In hindsight after completing SLI, is there anything you would have done differently in your studies, internships, work experiences, and/or other life experiences had you known this before participating? (for example- one student once said she would have taken a note-taking class before starting law school.)

Ashley: In hindsight, I wish I would have taken more time to reflect on my learning styles and take into account what has best served me in the past to see what I could implement in my law school experience. SLI served as a good reminder that our core learning styles don’t necessarily change while embarking into the new world that is law school, and we should hold onto practices and skills that have helped us excel in the past.

Jake: Many students I spoke with before starting law school advised me to establish good practices and routines before classes began. Thinking about exercising more? Get in the habit before school starts. Want to re-organize your apartment? Do that before school starts.

In hindsight, I should have heeded that advice more strongly, especially when it came to setting up my workspace. I spent the afternoon a few days ago moving a bookshelf and am still catching up on my readings.

Salimah: I had SLI with Laura and Asima in August 2020 in the middle of a global pandemic and a tropical storm! I missed part of the second week of SLI because I lost power due to the storm. I wish I would have spent more time learning how to read for law school and write helpful margin notes. I found out early on that writing full case briefs for class readings was an almost impossible task for me as an evening student with an equally demanding full-time job during the day.

Also, the “A” for IRAC that Laura and Asima go over during SLI are a taste of the very important skills we build during the first year and master during the second year and beyond. If I were to go back, I would more actively listen to what “law because facts” means and truly understand it.

This understanding will serve you well when you write exams for class, the CRREACs for Lawyering Seminar, and, you better believe it, the BAR! But remember, what starts from SLI is a continuum. It’s not something you see once and know like the back of your hand! Keep an eye out for it when it is discussed!

Justine: I would have said the following as a mantra every morning and night — law school is a marathon, so try to pace yourself. You don’t have to do everything, all the time. Know your limits. Grades don’t define your worth. Self-care is really important (seriously).

And now, some thoughts from Haley Meade, Director of the Skills Center, Laura Mott, Director of the 1L Evening Skills Program, and Asima Chaudhary, Director of the Evening Skills Program

What is SLI like from your perspective as the folks who teach in and curate these spaces?

Haley: SLI is an intense two weeks because we introduce every skill necessary for doing well in law school, from reading and briefing a case to outlining and IRAC. We had 93 students attend SLI this year — 51 FT and 42 PT. Professors Fareed Hayat, Greg Louis, and Ruthann Robson taught mock classes.

SLI is always my favorite time of the year! It’s a chance to meet and get to know a small group of the incoming class before the semester gets into full swing. I’m always impressed by how eager the students are to learn and how much they are able to soak up in such a short period of time. In addition to learning about skills during SLI, I like to set aside time for students to share their reason for coming to law school. The discussion is such a powerful experience. The vulnerability, sincerity, and passion the students display are awe-inspiring and create an opportunity for the students to understand that they are surrounded by classmates who are fighting to right the wrongs in the world.

Laura: Agreed, Haley! SLI is a joy to teach in. Asima and I co-teach the full group of evening students for the duration of the two-week program. We are always so impressed by the rapport they develop with each other, as they meet and work together on class exercises. A lot of bonding (despite Zoom!) happens in this learning environment, which folks have mentioned really sustains them through the long semester ahead. We hope the candidness we encourage in discussions helps to foster a sense of belonging and dispel insecurities generated by a return to school after longer professional hiatus periods (a common hurdle evening folks identify when starting law school). And, we have a lot of fun as well! Because we always encourage students to consider and “argue both sides,” a running joke in evening SLI is that Asima and I answer almost all questions with “….it depends!”

Asima: Absolutely — and speaking of Zoom, one thing we’ve noticed in the past two summers is that since SLI is a “crash course” in law school, students in SLI have adjusted early to online learning, and really mastered the various tech and video conferencing platforms required — so impressive! This early practice also has allowed folks to recalibrate and adjust to the new modalities and pacing of law school learning. We always reaffirm that SLI is exposure, not mastery, and that mastery will come with time; we’ve seen that this “easing in” helps to chip away at the trauma of past academic experiences and make law school a welcoming place.


How did you all get involved with SLI and how has it grown since you became involved?

Haley: I’ve been teaching in SLI since 2013. The core of the program has remained the same, although we find new ways to make the program even better each year. SLI has always been popular with the students, but, over the years, I think word has spread because each year we have more and more students apply.

Laura: I’ve been teaching in the evening SLI program since 2018. While basing its model on the incredibly successful day SLI program, our design approach has evolved over the years to meet the unique needs of first-time, evening law students. We conduct the program during the exact times of fall classes, so students can acclimate to the new work-school rhythm of their days. And, because of the comparatively smaller size of the Evening Program, we are able to offer the program to all incoming evening 1Ls who are interested! Like Haley mentioned, the word spread quickly! For the past three years, we’ve had close to the full class of evening students enrolled.


Where can prospectives and recent admits get more information about this program?

Haley: Prospectives and recent admits can get more information about SLI by emailing me ( or Laura Mott ( Day students should contact Haley, while evening students should contact Laura.