November 2016 Bar Bulletin
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November 2016 Bar Bulletin

Diversity in Law: A Long-Term,
But Necessary Investment

By Derrick De Vera
and Cecilia Jeong

 

Think back when you were a 1L law student, fearing cold calls from professors, struggling to understand a single word in Pennoyer v. Neff, all while trying to remember what IRAC stood for.

Then, in the blink of an eye, you get bombarded with messages about applying for your summer job. You send out countless applications, worried about whether your grades stack up or whether you have enough legal experience, since you still don’t understand what proximate cause is. And before you know it, after the emotional rollercoaster of receiving call backs and rejections, you are sitting across from a lawyer and being asked why you want to work with him or her. You are terrified.

For those fortunate (like the humbled authors of this article), that one interview may be the foot-in-the-door opportunity paving the way to becoming a full-time lawyer. And as members of traditionally underrepresented communities in legal practice, that opportunity is all the more meaningful. But the journey to that interview, and hopefully beyond, takes a lot of hard work and genuine commitment for all parties involved.

Those in civil law firm practice are likely familiar with 1L diversity programs. Such programs and others like it are centered on ensuring early development of students who have faced adversity and are not traditionally represented in law firms. They are one tool in confronting the issue that the law is the least diverse profession in the nation.1

Recently, the University of Washington launched its Gregoire Fellows Program to help bring greater diversity to the school and legal profession. Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt’s 1L Diversity Fellowship Program, and other programs like it, provide one paid summer associate position, along with a scholarship to assist with law school expenses during the recipient’s second year of law school.

Such programs seek to provide students facing institutional barriers a fundamental building block to the rest of their careers. This past August, the American Bar Association passed a resolution urging all providers of legal services, including corporations and law firms, to expand and create opportunities at all levels of responsibility for diverse attorneys.

The success of these diversity programs comes down to sustained results and investment. Like any thriving team, you must nurture a healthy culture in building buy-in and depth for the long term. The support and resources must be there.

We can attest to what that means. We are grateful and proud to say that we were both Schwabe 1L Diversity Fellows, returned as Schwabe 2L summer associates, and are now full-time second- and first-year Schwabe attorneys. And, we continue to build on that momentum.

One more current third-year law student will be joining us full-time next fall after also starting out as a Schwabe 1L Diversity Fellow. Yet another law student is following in those same footsteps. Each Fellow has participated in vetting and mentoring the next, and the tradition is strong and growing.

This pipeline of young lawyers starting at Schwabe is one reason its 1L program is unique. Schwabe fosters a mentorship-oriented, your-success-is-my-success mentality, and rooting it all is the recognition that each student coming through this program has something different to offer and that such differences should be valued and nurtured.

Once a student enters into the program, he or she is provided opportunities to not only develop skills and create strong relationships, but also to grow with the firm. Schwabe is not shy to provide 1Ls with substantive work, constructive criticism, and enough autonomy for students to grow and thrive within their short 10-week summer.

The firm also provides 1Ls with opportunities to attend practice group meetings and other management discussions, offer their own insight and suggestions, ask countless questions and obtain an understanding of how the law firm operates — an understanding that remains entirely cryptic to most law students. And amidst the memos and meetings, the firm plans fun events like dance-off competitions, rafting trips and cooking classes to ensure their summer associates enjoy themselves.

The overall experience embodies a “work hard, play hard” mantra and illustrates the firm’s commitment to the success of the 1L Diversity Fellows and, in turn, the continuing growth of diversity in the legal profession.

1 https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/05/27/law-is-the-least-diverse-profession-in-the-nation-and-lawyers-arent-doing-enough-to-change-that/?utm_term=.9596118f7355


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