MCCA Unlocks Pathways To The Power Of Diversity

Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 11:44

There is available on the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) website a video entitled The Pathway to the Power of Diversity. It tells the story of how scholarships unlock access to the legal profession by bright promising students from diverse backgrounds seeking a legal education, even when the cost of law school makes it a challenge for them to afford it. This report attempts to capture the essence of that video, which demonstrates how the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA), one of the most supportive organizations in providing this pathway, and others make scholarships and other opportunities available to talented young men and women and in so doing provides the key that unlocks the door to the legal profession.

One Scholar's Pathway

The Executive Director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, Inc. (MCCA), Veta T. Richardson, mentioned that a young attorney, Haris Khan, began his legal career as one of the law students selected for an MCCA scholarship. In fact, Haris is but one example of the outstanding, committed, and highly capable young attorneys who were assisted by the MCCA's Lloyd M. Johnson, Jr. Scholarship Program. To date, MCCA has offered financial and professional development support to more than a hundred like Haris. Named for MCCA's founder, this scholarship program represents the largest annual financial commitment of educational support made by any legal association. Each year, MCCA commits several hundred thousand dollars in support of outstanding diverse law students. MCCA is so proud of this scholarship program because it is changing the profession one student at a time. We are also changing the lives of these students and their families.

Haris Khan, an MCCA scholarship winner and now an associate at DLA Piper, said:

"When I was admitted to Boston University School of Law, while I was very pleased, of course, I asked myself, now how am I going to pay for all of this? The answer came from the MCCA. Not only had I been awarded a Lloyd M. Johnson, Jr. Scholarship but the message said, 'Just focus on your studies. We will worry about internships and networking opportunities with people who can help your career.' What a relief to have such a safety net to fall back on. And MCCA was true to its word, sending me opportunities all the time. MCCA even invited me to its conferences where I could mingle with leading lawyers. In fact, at MCCA's New York Conference in 2006, I met a lawyer from DLA Piper who asked for my resume. That led to an interview, a summer internship and eventually my being hired by the firm as an associate in its global communications, e-commerce and privacy group. Coming from an immigrant Asian-American family of modest means, including two older siblings, my pathway to a career in law would not have been possible without the scholarship and mentoring that I have received along the way. I hope to pay it forward by mentoring and supporting similarly situated students and serving as a bridge between underrepresented communities and the legal field."

Another Pathway: DuPont's Street Law Program

Haris Khan's story is a prime example of the growing pipeline to legal education supported by organizations and corporations alike. For example, the Street Law Inc. program, started at Georgetown University Law Center in 1972 as a local high school project, has become national and international in scope. Street Law is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing practical, participatory education about law.

The DuPont Company's Street Law Inc. program is a successful example. Tom Sager, DuPont's General Counsel described it as follows:

"In my 34 years as a DuPont attorney, we have been working to increase the number of attorneys of color and women in our law department and the legal community. Approximately ten years ago, we realized that we had to put more emphasis on starting with high school students to fill the pipeline with young minorities interested in the practice of law. In 2006, we formed a partnership with Street Law Inc. Our legal Street Law and Diversity Pipelines initiative is conducted at Howard High School of Technology in downtown Wilmington. It is the only predominantly black high school in the state of Delaware. Howard High School has a career track legal administrative assistant program, and students in the track learn about the basics of the law and administrative skills to work in a law firm or legal department. Our lawyers go into the classes to teach students basic legal subjects as well. In addition, DuPont also brings students to its offices for instruction, mentoring and, in some cases, paid internships. I am pleased to say that the vast majority of these disadvantaged youngsters go on to college."

One of these interns is Delores Smith, who recently graduated from Howard High School and is now a freshman at Wilmington University. She described her experience as follows:

"I went to Howard High School with the idea that I might want to be a nurse. But, once I took a class on the introduction to criminal justice, I was hooked on a legal career. I entered Howard's legal assistant career path and I was assigned to the DuPont Legal Street Law Program. It was an amazing experience. I got to work with DuPont attorneys who not only helped me understand the law but mentored me on preparing for college, including how to get federal student aid. The lawyers at DuPont were so nice that as a graduation gift they gave me a laptop computer. Best of all, I was given an internship at DuPont Legal so that I can earn some money while continuing my education. I am a criminal justice major at Wilmington University, and I can get a paralegal certificate at Wilmington. But, I am considering going on to Widener Law School because I really would like to be a litigator."

Creating Pathways Helps Business

We have mentioned examples of what companies such as DuPont and organizations such as MCCA can do to promote pathways to diversity in the legal profession. But the benefits of diversity go both ways.

Tom Sager said, "From DuPont's perspective, to succeed in today's highly competitive global marketplace our company must have an employee base and a law firm network that is as diverse as the customers who buy our products, the shareholders who purchase our stock, the vendors who supply us with goods and services, and the judges and juries who hear our cases. It long ago became clear to us that juries, judges, regulators and policy makers were becoming increasingly diverse and this trend impacted our ability to connect with these segments of the legal and business world. So besides valuing people of all races, ethnicities, and genders, diversity efforts also became a business imperative. It has proven critically important in a number of cases. One of them allowed us to find an alternative solution to a lawsuit against former lead pigment and paint manufacturers."

The case that Tom Sager refers to was resolved in 2005 when the state of Rhode Island agreed to drop DuPont from its public nuisance lawsuit against the makers of lead paint. In return, DuPont donated $9 million to the Children's Health Forum for efforts geared to expose childhood exposure to lead. Instrumental in this solution was the late Dr. Benjamin Hooks, a civil rights activist and pioneer. He was the Forum's co-founder along with former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp. Dr. Hooks was also the first African-American commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission and the head of the NAACP. The Rhode Island attorney general said that the money would be used to protect children in the state, particularly those in the inner cities, from the hazards of lead poisoning. The Forum's work yielded impressive results greatly reducing the number of children with elevated lead levels in their blood. Thus, in the world of diversity, DuPont benefited from doing good, as you can see.

A Wide Range Of Diversity Programs Is Better: The DuPont Example

DuPont is an example of how a company can offer a wide range of programs to support diversity. Sharon Leyhow, DuPont Associate General Counsel, described some of the company's diversity programs.

"Diversity through DuPont is defined through the corporate vision to be a great global company through people. Not only has DuPont supported high school students through the Street Law Inc. Program, but it has organized a series of minority job fairs since 1994, presenting law school students with an unmatched opportunity to meet representatives from its network of law firms to be interviewed for both summer and permanent jobs.

"Noticing a decline in the number of successful minority-owned law firms, DuPont along with other Fortune 100 companies has sent millions of dollars in business to these law firms to foster their sustainability. Also I am pleased to have participated in the Minority Counsel Network of DuPont and its law firms, which has worked on solutions to the unique issues of recruitment, mentoring and retention for attorneys of color.

"Another DuPont diversity initiative has been the creation of the DuPont women lawyer's network which promotes legal excellence through the professional advancement of women lawyers. These programs and the whole diversity initiative at DuPont have been championed by General Counsel Tom Sager, and they are are among the reasons that MCCA named its award recognizing the diversity accomplishments of law firms after him."

Veta Richardson commented: "The Sager Award is one of the many ways that MCCA salutes progress on the pathway to diversity. For example, our Diversity Dollars Grants Program gives up to $10,000 to attorney-based organizations, ranging from local bar associations to national law foundations, to implement programs encouraging diversity in the legal profession.

"MCCA believes that getting organizations to sponsor scholarships probably has the most impact on the future of diversity and the legal profession. We are proud to report that MCCA has given more than one and a half million dollars in scholarships and fellowships in recent years."

Another Pathway: The Just the Beginning Foundation

It is never too early to get promising minorities interested in the law. One program in particular that MCCA has been proud to support is the Just the Beginning Foundation. Among its many programs for minority youth is its schools project designed to help underprivileged high school students understand the legal profession and encourage the pursuit of law-related careers. When it comes to programs supporting minority students, no one has been more involved than one of the founders of Just the Beginning, the Honorable Ann Claire Williams, United States Court of Appeals judge for the Seventh Circuit.

Judge Williams commented:

"While the Just the Beginning Foundation has several initiatives, one of the partnerships I am most proud of is its schools project and its collaboration with MCCA. My parents, both college graduates, stressed the importance of education to me and my sisters. I realized early on that education was the pipeline to success. So providing middle, high school, college and law students with the foundation and the training to pursue law-related careers is the key for success, not only for the students but for the legal profession. MCCA offers great mentoring and programming resources to children - often first generation college and law students.

"Before I became a lawyer I was a third-grade teacher in the inner-city public schools of Detroit, so I know first-hand that given the opportunity and support, children of color and those from other underrepresented groups can shine for us in the legal profession. We want them to shine brightly on their pathway to a legal career. Help the next generation find a pathway to a legal career."