Tim Tai, Photographer Editor

Chisato Kimura LAW ’25 first interacted with the American legal system while navigating the visa process for her parents, who were recent immigrants from Japan. 

Now, she is one of 51 law students to receive funding from Yale Law School to cover the full cost of tuition, fees and health insurance under the Soledad ’92 and Robert Hurst Horizon Scholarship Program. 

“Throughout my life, I realized how the law is first of all, something really important and useful to know, especially for marginalized communities,” Chisato said. “While [law] can and is sometimes used to perpetuate really harmful, oppressive things, it can also be used to protect people as a tool of advocacy.” 

The scholarship was conceived as a way of remedying current disparities in equity and inclusion existing across American law schools. The scholarship’s founding donors are Robert and Soledad Hurst LAW ’92, who donated $20 million, alongside Patricia and David Nirenberg ’75 LAW ’78, and Carol and Gene Ludwig LAW ’73. 

Underrepresentation of marginalized groups plagues the legal profession today; a 2021 study showing that fewer than 15 percent of lawyers are people of color, a phenomenon driven by the inaccessibility of attending law school for low-income students. Yale Law’s class of 2025 enrolled 55 percent students of color and 16 percent first generation college students. 

“The Hurst Horizon Scholarship program reflects the Law School’s ongoing commitment to increasing support for our highest need students,” Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Miriam Ingber  wrote in an email to the News. “Our goal is to ensure that these students are empowered to take advantage of the many educational and professional opportunities available during law school and then reach for their goals after graduation.” 

Law schools, and graduate schools at large, have historically focused on merit-based scholarships as opposed to need-based financial aid. Yale is one of only two law schools in the country to offer financial aid based solely on the need of admitted students. Ingber emphasized her hope that the Horizon Scholarship would “underscore the importance of need-based aid,” considering that only need-based aid addresses “students and their families’ financial circumstances.” 

Since Gerken’s unveiling of the scholarship last spring, Stanford Law School announced that it would also be covering the full cost of tuition for low-income students. 

“The Hurst Horizon Scholarship is a once-in-a-generation program that builds on the Law School’s best-in-class financial aid model and has the potential to spark a fundamental change in how legal education is funded,” Gerken wrote to the News. “ I am thrilled that we already have 51 Horizon Scholars walking our halls, and I look forward to working with our alumni community to expand this program in the future.”

The scholarship is awarded to J.D. students whose family income is below the federal poverty line and whose assets are below $150,000. Recipients of the scholarship received $70,000 from the Law School in the 2022-2023 school year, with recipients distributed across their first, second and third years. The scholarship will continue to be awarded to incoming first years in the future. 

Gerken announced the scholarship after incoming 1Ls had already submitted their applications. Kimura explained that after Gerken’s announcement, she was unsure of whether or not she would qualify for the scholarship, but later learned that she would be a recipient via a phone call from Miriam Ingber.

“It was probably the best phone call of my life, if I’m being honest,” Kimura said. 

Hurst Horizon builds on an already robust financial aid system within Yale Law School. YLS boasts the lowest debt load among peer institutions. In the 2021-2022 academic year, 76 percent of the student body received some form of aid from the school. 

Yale Law’s emphasis on increasing accessibility has forged new standards in legal education, with recent statements from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law Schools seconding Gerken’s commitment to removing financial barriers for prospective students. 

“Entering law school, I grappled with the choice between going into the private sector and helping my family financially or going into the public sector and helping families like mine through policy change,” Horizon recipient Alphonse Simon LAW ’24 wrote in an email to the News. “The Hurst Horizon Scholarship has eliminated the distinction between these two choices, and I feel significantly more autonomous in deciding the direction of my legal career.”

In the 2020-2021 academic year, 73 percent of YLS students received scholarship grants.

Ines Chomnalez writes for the University desk covering Yale Law School. She previously wrote for the Arts desk. Ines is a sophomore in Pierson College majoring in History and Cognitive Science.