How Leading Companies Are Prioritizing Diversity Early in the Pipeline

Increasing diversity has become well established as a central goal of the legal profession, but there's no question that much work remains. Bolstered by an industrywide commitment to increasing the number of minorities and women in the legal field, diversity in law firms has increased in tiny but measurable increments, according to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), which tracks law firm demographics. Last year, however, progress came to a halt, driven by widespread layoffs in the associate ranks, which often contain the most diverse lawyers.

A newer trend within the legal diversity realm, gaining momentum over the past five to 10 years, are so-called pipeline efforts that address diversity by reaching out to minority and low-income students throughout their educations. The idea is that by working with kids in their communities, lawyers are also investing in the profession with the hope that some of the young people will go on to law school and become lawyers where previously that might have been a distant goal--if it appeared on their radar screens at all.

"Pipeline work is essential," says NALP Executive Director Jim Leipold. "We know we lose a disproportionate number of minority students long before they get to law school. So to grow diversity in the profession, it's not enough to simply hire diverse graduates from law school. We actually need more diverse people in law schools."

"Leaks" in the pipeline exist from pre-kindergarten all the way up the educational ladder, the result of disparate distribution of education funding and longstanding socioeconomic inequalities.

"There's a longstanding belief that intervening in the pipeline at any point is meaningful," Leipold says. "NALP's work has suggested that every organization that has a serious commitment to diversity in the legal arena needs to have pipeline projects as part of its multifaceted strategy."

Working with students is not only essential, but it's also enormously gratifying to volunteers, and there are plenty of ways legal departments can get involved. On the following pages, InsideCounsel highlights organizations and partnerships making a difference through pipeline programs.

CLASSROOM CITIZENS: Accenture

The law department at Chicago-based Accenture launched its Legal Corporate Citizenship initiative in 2004 to nurture pro bono and community volunteer work.

"Right away, we got involved in the schools," says Jim Beyer, Accenture's director of employment law and a founder of the Legal Corporate Citizenship committee. "Exposing kids to what different types of lawyers do is something that really resonates with lawyers. We have a large number of legal professionals volunteering, but certainly the work in schools is one of the most popular things we do."

About 50 of Accenture's Chicago lawyers, or half the legal team, do some sort of work in schools, Beyer estimates. At the elementary school level, Accenture has partnered since 2004 with DLA Piper, which got Accenture involved in the Constitutional Rights Foundation's Lawyers in the Classroom program. Lawyers in the Classroom partners teams of attorneys and elementary schools in and around Chicago for interactive learning sessions three to four times a year and provides training for lawyer-volunteers and teaching materials for them to use. Accenture lawyers have adopted Chicago's John Barry Elementary School, where they lead classrooms in interactive vignettes to make students think about what the Constitution means through "what if?" scenarios.

Becoming Mentors

Three years ago, Accenture lawyers again collaborated with DLA Piper to launch a partnership with Richard T. Crane Technical Preparatory High School, located in an underserved Chicago neighborhood.

Through the MVP program, lawyers visit Crane Tech once a month for mentoring sessions with students beginning in their sophomore year. They provide academic support and take students on college visits and field trips to Accenture and DLA Piper offices.

"We teach them all the things they may encounter when getting a job in high school or applying to college, and we talk about career options," says Michael Marchant, senior counsel, IP and M&As, who started the high-school program with other lawyers. "It's a way for a student to have somebody outside their family life they can connect with to say there's a world of opportunity out there, and we're here to help you achieve those goals."

Strength in Numbers

Marchant and Beyer encourage law departments of all sizes to get involved in classroom programs either on their own or by partnering with law firms or other corporations
like Accenture.

"This isn't exclusive territory," Beyer says. "We're all trying to do a good thing here. If other lawyers asked to get involved and team up, we'd say yes."

Pairing with DLA Piper on the Barry Elementary School and Crane Tech programs gives Accenture strength in numbers, and it also exposes the kids to both the law firm and
corporate worlds.

The lawyers who volunteer commit quite a bit of their time to preparing for and leading teaching and mentoring sessions, Beyer says, but they always leave the schools feeling they get more out of the program than they put into it.

"In our jobs we don't get the same kind of gratification as seeing the eyes of a student when someone from a world that's really different from theirs takes time to really care about them," says Beyer. "It energizes people and makes them want to do more."

COMMITMENT TO COMMUNITY: Merck and Co. Inc.

Founded in 1972, Street Law provides training, curricula and program development aid to corporate law departments and law firms launching pipeline initiatives. Throughout the years, the non-profit has worked with the Association of Corporate Counsel to collaborate on corporate legal diversity pipeline efforts with companies including The Coca-Cola Co. (see "Refreshing Communities," p. 91), DuPont, Marriott International, Allstate, Wal-Mart, IBM and McDonald's.

Custom Built

Merck and Co. Inc. began working with Street Law six years ago to design a high-school program in Union County, N.J., a more racially diverse community with lower average household incomes than Hunterdon County, home of Merck's Whitehouse Station, N.J., headquarters. The program began with Merck lawyers, paralegals and legal administrative assistants visiting Union High School to teach students about IP law and the variety of career opportunities in the legal profession. Merck also hosts students from Union High School at its headquarters every year for a daylong program on legal topics and career opportunities. This year the program is expanding to include students from nearby Rahway High School, and more than 100 students are expected to attend.

"The fact that we're reaching out to the community, expanding to more high schools, and partnering Union and Rahway together is an exceptional way to bring communities together," says Mark Daniel, who established Merck's Street Law Program. Daniel, group managing patent counsel at Merck, also chairs Merck's Pro Bono Committee and helped create the company's pro bono program in 1994. "And I'm proud that we've had so many Merck volunteers who come back year after year to participate in the program."

Daniel advises other law departments to start small with their pipeline efforts and not to bite off more than they can chew. He urges legal teams to reach out to other companies for pointers and to share experiences. And he says preparation and understanding of the curriculum is vital--the Merck team went through extensive training with Street Law.

Beyond Legal

In October 2010, Merck launched a new collaboration with Street Law in an effort to reach even more New Jersey youth. The Positive Choices initiative aims to reach kids who might not find the pipeline program. Merck employees work with elementary, middle and high-school students, and young people in the foster care and juvenile justice systems. They tell students about academic and career choices, good citizenship and ways the law can impact students' lives. In the case of the juvenile justice program, trained Merck employees aim to get kids back on the right track.

"Mark and his legal team already had a great relationship with Street Law," says Ellen Lambert, executive vice president of the Merck Company Foundation and executive director of Merck's Office of Corporate Philanthropy. "So we worked with them to create a program that would have a positive impact on youth and that could be scalable--while it started in Union County, we're hoping to ultimately spread it across New Jersey. Anyone interested in working with Street Law would find a very creative, responsive organization that is terrific about their willingness to share all their resources."

PIPELINE PARTNERSHIPS: General Mills

In the legal department at General Mills, the commitment to diversity clearly starts from the top--GC Rick Palmore authored "A Call to Action" in 2004, urging general counsel to demand diversity from their law firms and partner with law firm leaders to drive diversity efforts.

Today Palmore is chair of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) (see "Q&A: Brad Smith"). The LCLD's focus on collaboration is reflected in General Mills' approach to pipeline issues.

"We're trying something different and new in the past few years, which is really partnering," says Autumn Huiras, senior counsel, labor and employment, at General Mills. Huiras chairs General Mills' Diversity Task Force, which implements the law department's diversity strategies.

Teaming Up

As part of that strategy, General Mills lawyers work with Just the Beginning Foundation, a Chicago-based non-profit pipeline organization, participating in the organization's two-week summer legal institute. The company hosts local high-school students at General Mills headquarters in Minneapolis to expose them to legal career opportunities, and lawyers work with them on mock negotiation exercises. The law department hosts mentoring circles through Twin Cities-based Diversity In Practice, another legal education non-profit. General Mills also partners with its law firms to mentor young lawyers and help them form professional development plans. In addition, General Mills lawyers increasingly get involved in the LCLD's pipeline efforts.

"We've had a variety of organizations and efforts [addressing diversity in the legal profession], but we still haven't been able to move the dial very much in the past 20 to 30 years," Huiras says. "Partnerships are really the new way that we need to come together as a profession. It will take law firms working with corporations and other organizations in a way that we can have the biggest impact possible."

Everybody In

Palmore's leadership on diversity initiatives reaches every single person in the General Mills law department--all of them, including administrative assistants, are responsible for setting a diversity-related objective. "That could mean participating in pipeline efforts, including mentoring, and it could even mean just getting educated about this issue and why it's important," Huiras says. "You can start really small."

THE GREAT DEBATERS: The National Association for Urban Debate

Linda Listrom, executive director of the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL) since September 2010, knows firsthand how important and influential competitive debate can be for students from underrepresented groups.

"I graduated from college in 1974, and very few women were going to law school then," Listrom says. "I didn't know any women who went to law school, but I knew men who were going because they were men I'd debated against. I thought that if I debated against men and was successful, I could be successful in law school, too."

Providing minority and low-income students with that kind of confidence, along with a foundation of academic rigor, is the idea behind Urban Debate Leagues, which began in 1985 in Atlanta and went nationwide in 1997. Budget cuts in struggling school districts have led to the disappearance of debate teams from most urban high schools, so NAUDL works with inner-city school districts to re-establish such programs in those schools, organize the high-school teams into debate leagues, and support their activities.

The Debate Effect

Today, the organization has launched debate leagues encompassing more than 500 public schools in 24 U.S. cities. And they're making a difference--a study of the Chicago Debate League and Chicago Public Schools found that Chicago urban debaters have higher GPAs and ACT scores and were 70 percent more likely to graduate from high school and three times less likely to drop out than nondebaters.

While the program isn't exclusively aimed at the diversity pipeline to law school, Listrom points out that debaters often go on to become lawyers.

"I joke that if I meet a lawyer, there's a 50 percent chance they debated," she says. "If they're a litigator, it's a 75 percent chance."

Volunteer Opportunities

Listrom says NAUDL is always looking for lawyers to volunteer with the organization, whether in its national office in Chicago or in one of its many leagues nationwide. Local leagues look for people with debate backgrounds to judge tournaments, which are held six to eight times a year. And lawyers make great mentors for young debaters. Jenner & Block, for instance, Listrom's former firm brings Chicago-area debaters into the law firm on weeknights to participate in practice debates, get debate pointers and also catch a glimpse of law firm life.

"If you talk to anybody who debated for any period of time, whether in high school or college, all will tell you that debate was a formative experience for them," Listrom says. "It was what got them on the path to college or led them to make the decision to go to law school. So our volunteers get really excited about making these types of opportunities available to young people of color from disadvantaged backgrounds."

Q&A: Brad Smith

The Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) was formed by in-house and law firm leaders to continue the work of the Call to Action initiative, which in 2004 urged corporate counsel and law firms to work together on driving diversity in the profession.

Pipeline work is one of the four key strategic initiatives the LCLD has identified, and its pipeline committee, chaired by Microsoft GC Brad Smith, focuses on supporting organizations that work with diverse colleges and law students. At Microsoft, lawyers are similarly committed to multiple pipeline projects.

InsideCounsel: What's the biggest challenge surrounding the pipeline issue?

Smith: It's such a vast issue. Some people talk about the problems with high schools in the country, some talk about middle schools or early learning. And the truth is, all of these points are valid. The problem is that as a profession we are simply not large enough to solve every part of the pipeline problem in the U.S. We're only going to be impactful if we can better coordinate with each other.

Why does the LCLD Pipeline Committee focus on college and law students?

First, there's a real drop-off between diversity among college graduates and in law school enrollments. Second, this is an area where lawyers have a uniquely valuable contribution to make to help persuade college students to consider law as a profession and to help them prepare. And third, no other professional group is going to persuade college students to go to law school.

How can law departments get involved in this endeavor?

At both the college and law school level, the single easiest thing for a company or law firm to do is to open up additional internship opportunities for first-year students. Beyond that, it's trying to grow the capacity of other programs that are already doing a great job on college campuses and to get lawyers to volunteer their time with them, as well as contributing financial resources in some cases to grow those efforts.

Q&A: James O'Neal

James O'Neal is co-founder and executive director of Legal Outreach, a program aimed at working with at-risk teens to prepare them for college and law school. The organization started out working with high-school students and has since expanded to middle school and college students.

InsideCounsel: How did you get the idea for Legal Outreach?

O'Neal: I was fortunate to have gone to Harvard Law School, but I found that the great majority of the people there seemed to have had the benefit of a high-quality education, and many of the students also came from affluent backgrounds. One problem was just the lack of exposure--young people from urban communities never thought of themselves as lawyers. What I discovered back in '82, and what still continues today, is that a lot of those students had the desire but lacked a lot of the fundamental skills they'd need to become successful in high school, college and law school. How do you close that gap and get kids excited about law on the one hand, but also make sure they have the skills they're going to need to pursue their dreams? That's what we've been trying to do for the past 25 years.

What kind of results have you seen?

We began the college program in earnest in 1990, and over the years about 70 percent of the students who started with us their ninth-grade year have finished the program. All of them have graduated high school, and 99 percent have matriculated at four-year colleges, 68 percent at schools that Barron's ranked as the nation's most competitive colleges and universities, including all of the Ivies. Beyond that, at least 80 percent of these students graduate from their respective institutions in four years. (Thirty-four percent have or are pursuing a graduate degree, and 14.4 percent have or are pursuing a J.D.)

How can corporate law departments get involved with Legal Outreach?

Like their law firm counterparts, in-house law departments can certainly participate in internship programs, which only last for one week. We ask that the students engage in substantive activities during that week, so they get a real sense of what the company does. Law departments can also sponsor our constitutional law debates and participate as judges. There are also opportunities to participate in summer law institutes. And certainly there are mentorship opportunities. We'll be recruiting new mentors from July through August to prepare for the new school year.

Q&A: Leonard Baynes

The Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development at St. John's University School of Law in Queens, N.Y., focuses on outreach programs for underrepresented minorities along with pipeline programs for college and law students. The Center's Summer Prep Program for College Students, which started in 2005, works with undergrads in intensive eight- to nine-week-long sessions that include law school application guidance, LSAT preparation and internships with law firms, law departments and judges. Leonard Baynes is inaugural executive director of the Center.

InsideCounsel: What's the current state of law school diversity?

Baynes: A Columbia University study found a decline in the number of African-American and Mexican-American students enrolled in law school, even though the study shows their credentials have increased and the size of law school classes have increased. At St. John's we're working on a study of the New York state law schools, and we see a similar drop in African-American and Puerto Rican enrollment in law schools. I think that's partly attributable to the increase in LSAT requirements that law schools have, and it's all designed to try to gain on the U.S. News and World Report rankings. It's too bad--that privileges kids from upper middle-class families who can afford to take LSAT prep classes at $1,500 a pop (see "Q&A: Craig Holden," at InsideCounsel.com).

How do students respond to the summer program?

The results have been outstanding--students become more mature and more focused, and many of them figure out what they want to do. They have been able to increase their LSAT scores by 10 points in the past three years--one student increased hers by 23 points after taking our LSAT class. Last year, and this year it will be similar, we had 80 percent of students in the junior-year program accepted to law school. That's significant, because another Columbia study found that only 40 percent of African-American law applicants are accepted to law schools, compared to 62 percent of white applicants. So our students actually have a higher acceptance rate than the national average for white students.

Where can law departments get involved?

We'd love to have more corporate bridge internships for students in our program who have been accepted to law school to do between college graduation and law school. We could really use more of those.

For more discussions about diversity, check out our exclusive online Q&A's with Robin Rone of the American Bar Association and Craig Holden of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith.

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