DuPont And Street Law:Partnering To Expand Opportunity And Build Diversity Into The Pipeline

Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - 00:00

The Editor interviews Ernest Tuckett, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company.

Editor: Please tell us about your professional background.

Tuckett: I am currently Corporate Counsel for DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware, where I am responsible for labor and employment law matters. Prior to joining DuPont four years ago, I was a member of the employment law and litigation practice group at Arent Fox in Washington, D.C.for 11 years.

Editor: I understand DuPont Legal will receive the Street Law 2010 Corporate Legal Diversity Pipeline Award. Congratulations! When and where will you receive the award?

Tuckett: Thank you. We will be accepting the award at Street Law's annual awards dinner, which is held in April of every year. This year the event falls on April 28 at the Fairmont Hotel, in Washington D.C.

Editor: Would you tell our readers about Street Law?

Tuckett: Street Law, Inc. is a national organization that was started in 1972 at Georgetown University Law Center to reach out to the community. They decided to develop an experimental curriculum covering practical aspects of the law and the legal system that could be taught to District of Columbia high school students. The Georgetown students called their program "Street Law" for its focus on accessibility and practicality, and the name stuck. It is now a legal clinic at Georgetown in which law students teach a basic legal class at local high schools for law school credit.(I actually taught in the Street Law Clinic in 1993-94 when I was a law student at Georgetown.)

Within a few years, the program had expanded into several other cities, and in 1986 Street Law began establishing programs and developing materials abroad. Today, Street Law runs almost 20 programs in the U.S. and operates in 30 countries as well.

Editor: Is the Corporate Legal Diversity Pipeline one such program?

Tuckett: Yes, it is. The Corporate Legal Diversity Pipeline Program, which was created in partnership with the Association of Corporate Counsel, connects corporate legal departments with local diverse high schools; its mission is to encourage students to consider a career in the legal profession. To accomplish this, corporate lawyers teach them about civil law and its relevance in their own lives.

About 30 major corporations around the country have Corporate Diversity Pipeline Programs with Street Law, some of the most notable including Coca-Cola, GM North America, Turner Broadcasting, Marriott, Clorox and McDonald's.

Editor: Please tell us specifically about DuPont Legal's Corporate Legal Diversity Pipeline Program.

Tuckett: In the fall of 2006, we began working with Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, Delaware, in partnership with the law firm of Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor and the Delaware Law Related Education Center. Together, our goal is to educate students about careers in the law and general legal topics as well as to mentor those students in their quest to go to college and pursue careers in the law.

Our program is basically divided into two components. The first part, which takes place in the fall, is available to sophomores, juniors and seniors. We go into the classroom and teach on three topic areas, such as copyrights, employment and property. Then, in December we put on a conference where the students engage in interactive workshops around those topics: students play the roles of lawyers and advocates, and lawyers and paralegals from DuPont and Young Conaway play the roles of their clients. The conference takes place at the Hotel duPont conference center adjacent to the DuPont building in Wilmington.

In the spring, we focus on the second component of the program, which is geared to college-bound juniors. A group of lawyers and paralegals from DuPont and Young Conaway mentor the students with an eye towards helping them learn about the college application and admissions process. We conduct workshops to teach everything from how to research and select colleges to the application process and its essay component to obtaining financial aid. We also bring in guest speakers from schools like the University of Delaware and Widener University School of Law Paralegal Program to discuss their admissions process. The teaching sessions are followed by meetings between students and their mentors. Widener also allows us to conduct a law school visit to its campus.

Editor: Who gets accepted into the DuPont Street Law program?

Tuckett: The Howard High School of Technology is a vocational high school, and by sophomore year every student has chosen a career track or area to study. "Our" students are those who have chosen the legal career track, which is called the Legal Administrative Assistant Program (LAA). Howard has offered this track for just under 10 years.

Most of the students who participate in the program, roughly 70 percent, are African-American, and about 15 to 20 percent are Hispanic. About half are young women.

Editor: Have any Howard High students from the program gone on to college? What about law school?

Tuckett: Over the four years we have been doing the program, I would say that the vast majority of the 18 to 20 seniors each year go on to college, whether it be a two-year or four-year college. Because we are only in our fourth year of the program, many of the first students who graduated out of our first year of the program are in their second or third year of college right now.

Likewise, we have no students in law school yet; however, I have connected with two college seniors who came out of the Howard Legal Administrative Assistant Program, and they have already sat for their LSATs. While technically not a part of the program while DuPont was involved (having graduated the spring before), we nonetheless have brought them into the fold. They are both applying to law schools right now, and we all feel we have a stake in seeing them succeed. I am actively mentoring one of them, and I have a great deal of confidence in her.

Editor: It sounds like the program has been very successful.

Tuckett: Certainly having graduates of LAA who are taking LSATs and applying to law schools indicates success. I would say that a wider indicator is the fact that so many of these students come out of high school prepared to attend college and to pursue a career in the legal profession.

Editor: Is there any formal follow-up with the students who graduate to see how they are succeeding?

Tuckett: At the moment we have not set up a formal process, but we have established relationships with a number of the students who are matriculating into college. We keep in touch with them via email and Facebook and mentor them whenever we can. The LAA teacher at Howard High, Christine Shaub, follows the progress of her students after they graduate, and she is a wonderful resource for us.

Editor: Is there an internship program?

Tuckett: During their senior year at Howard, participating students go to school half a day and then work half a day in their career field of choice.This is the Co-op Program that exists at all vocational high schools in Delaware. Christine Shaub has placed students in a number of law firms and government agencies around the city, and DuPont was able to join that effort, employing several of the seniors over the last three years as part of that program.

Editor: I understand that DuPont has begun an SAT preparation program as part of its Street Law Program. Explain how that came about and how it works.

Tuckett: In 2008, Silvio DeCarli, an Associate General Counsel at DuPont, volunteered to teach a class for all interested juniors in SAT preparation. We decided to incorporate that into the mentoring component of the program that we conduct for juniors in the spring semester. Silvio's class runs for eight weeks, one day a week. He teaches them basic tips on test-taking as well as strategies for the SAT. He also advises them on classroom performance. He has been doing this consistently - completely voluntarily - for two years; this spring will mark the third. Most of the students we deal with will be taking the SAT for the first time when they sign up for Silvio's class.

Editor: How do you personally feel about doing this work?

Tuckett: I find that it is one of the most fulfilling things that I have done, and continue to do, in my legal career. Street Law has followed me from law school until now. For almost all of my years at Arent Fox, I joined a group of other firm lawyers in mentoring at Banneker High School in D.C. in the context of the Georgetown Street Law program.

I came to DuPont in January of 2006, and that fall Tom Sager called me into his office to inform me that DuPont had a plan to start a Street Law program in Wilmington.He said he was excited about the plan to get it started. When I asked him what the plan was, he responded, simply, "You. You're the plan." And I was thrilled to be the plan! But this program is only successful because of the selfless dedication of the DuPont and Young Conaway volunteers; every year, dozens of lawyers, paralegals and administrative assistants from both companies sign up to volunteer.They make my task easy.I think that it is one of the most fulfilling things to see young people grow from children into young adults and to witness their interest in the law blossom the way it does.

Editor: How many lawyers from DuPont have gotten involved in the Street Law program or the LAA?

Tuckett: Every year we get approximately 50 volunteers, including lawyers and paralegals from DuPont and Young Conaway.

Editor: Would you tell us about DuPont's other diversity pipeline programs?

Tuckett: In addition to the Street Law program, there are three that jump out.

First, two of our lawyers, Mark Edwards and Michael Clarke, have been involved for many years in a mentoring program at the Kingswood Community Center in Wilmington. Second, DuPont is a major sponsor of MCCA's Lloyd M. Johnson, Jr. Scholarship Program program. And third, we sponsor and coordinate job fairs in four cities every August for law students of color so that our law firms can interview them.Readers can visit www.dupontlegalmodel.com to learn more about these and other initiatives.

Editor: Is there anything that you would like to add?

Tuckett: I would like to encourage your readers and their legal departments or law firms to support Street Law, Inc. and become a sponsor orbuy a table or tickets to the award dinner. This dinner is Street Law's most important fundraiser. Through the help of its sponsors and donors, the national organization can initiate programs like DuPont's around the country in cities where it's needed most. I would encourage your readers to visit www.streetlaw.org and click on "Upcoming Events" to learn more about the awards dinner.