The early bird catches the worm â€” and the best employees.
At least that’s the thinking of the Association of Corporate Counsel and the Street Law organization, which are working together to encourage young people of color to extend their educations and consider law-related careers. Among other things, their Corporate Legal Diversity Pipeline program pairs teachers at high schools with corporate lawyers to provide law-related education, role models, and mentors.
“The ACC/Street Law Diversity Pipeline program is [a] wonderful initiative that targets diverse high school students and offers them positive contact with corporate lawyers and insight into the challenging and engaging work that they do,” says Laura Stein, ACC’s outgoing board chair and senior vice president and general counsel of the Clorox Co.
Corporations Give Back â€” And Plant Seeds for Recruitment
Clorox â€” along with dozens of organizations like The Coca-Cola Co., Merck &Co., Marriott International, and Allstate â€” are participating by having their lawyers visit local urban high schools. The main advantages are twofold: not only do the companies give back to the community, they also set the stage for the future recruitment of a diverse employee base.
“The participation of corporate lawyers in these classrooms delivers a powerful message to today’s youth â€” tomorrow’s leaders â€” that the legal profession cares about them,” says Lee Arbetman, Streetlaw’s director of U.S. programs. “In particular we want to focus on the message that the legal profession welcomes lawyers from all ethnic and racial backgrounds.”
Activities of corporate volunteers include teaching classes in the school’s street law curriculum, training students for mock trials or moot courts, attending class field trips, sponsoring activities on corporate campuses, providing employment opportunities for program participants, and providing ongoing contact with kids who excel in the program.
For instance, 36 legal staffers at General Motors (GM) work with more than 200 students each year and have hosted 17 interns from the program in their legal department. All of the company’s graduating interns have gone on to four-year colleges and are doing well, says a GM source. Two have received United Negro College Fund Scholarships, and 18 students have received scholarships directly from GM.
Students Get Up-Close View â€” And Maybe a Goal
Chanel West, a sophomore at Hirsch Metro High School in Chicago, recently participated in the Diversity Pipeline program. “I like interacting with real lawyers and real judges,” she told Chicago Lawyer. “[Lawyers] help people who need them. I know there is a lot more work than what you see on TV . . . I think it is a good idea for students to see the profession. For kids who want to pursue the profession of law, interact[ing] with lawyers gives them a goal.”
Attracting students like West is a goal that area companies share. According to Chicago Lawyer’s 2008 diversity survey, five percent of the partners in the 92 firms it polled are minorities, and 15.5 percent of all associates are minorities. Those numbers aren’t any better than last year’s, the magazine says.
But the benefits are also personal for participating lawyers. “Participating in the Street Law program allowed us to really make a difference in the lives of students in our community â€” some of whom have never met a lawyer or had support and encouragement to become a lawyer,” says Jenifer Robbins, general counsel of the FPL Advisory Group.