Building Diversity Into The Future Generation Of Legal Talent

Wednesday, March 1, 2006 - 01:00

Lee Arbetman, Director of U.S. Programs at Street Law,
Inc., talks with Susan Hackett, General Counsel of the Association of
Corporate Counsel, about the in-house legal community's support for the
Corporate Legal Diversity Pipeline Program. The program is designed to engage
law departments and corporate counsel in an effort to encourage young people of
color to extend their educations and consider legal careers. For more
information, visit the program's website at
href="http://www.streetlaw.org/pipepline.asp">www.streetlaw.org/pipepline.asp,
or contact Lee Arbetman at
href="mailto:larbetman@streetlaw.org">larbetman@streetlaw.org.

Arbetman: Street Law began more than 30 years ago as a project at
Georgetown University Law Center. Several law students designed a curriculum to
teach teenagers about practical aspects of the law. Taught initially in the DC
public schools, the immensely successful program grew and spread to law schools
across the country. Today, more than 60 law schools teach Street Law throughout
the U.S. Each year, Street Law classes reach more than 300,000 students

A non-profit corporation, Street Law publishes Street Law: A
Course in Practical Law. Now in its seventh edition, it is the nation's
leading high school law textbook. Other Street Law, Inc. programs include
curricula for young parents, teens involved in youth court programs, young
people aging out of the foster care system, and juveniles in various stages of
the juvenile justice system.

Street Law, Inc. also runs professional development institutes for social
studies teachers and brings its educational message of law, democracy and human
rights to countries around the world through curricula and training programs. To
date, Street Law, Inc. has worked in more than 30 countries.

Hackett: Fostering diversity throughout the legal profession is one of
ACC's core values. Several years ago, we invited leading corporate counsel to
participate in a new ACC initiative : "Priming the Pipeline to
Diversity," which was supported financially by a grant from DuPont's legal
department.

We recognized the contribution that a pipeline program could make to the
success of ACC's larger diversity initiative. Many great diversity programs are
targeted to practicing attorneys of color. If we don't work to increase that
population - bringing more people of color into the profession in the first
place - then over time, even the best programs that serve practicing lawyers of
color will stall.

It became apparent that we needed to extend the pipeline to the legal
profession back to high school students to nurture their interest in law as a
possible future career. That's when we turned to Street Law. We were looking for
a program that would allow us to train and send corporate counsel into the
classroom in high schools in communities of color. We wanted to reach out to
students and get them excited about legal concepts, provide them positive role
models and mentors, and offer encouragement of all kinds. By creating a path to
the law, we hoped that the students would realize that the legal profession is a
career option that's open to them.

Arbetman: Having worked with teachers and students for more than three
decades, Street Law, Inc. has an extensive network of law-related educators
across the country. Street Law's interactive lessons challenge students to
develop communication, advocacy and decision-making skills. Through Street Law,
young people learn that the law is more than just the siren screaming down their
block at 3 : 00 a.m. The font of law-related education, Street Law
reaches students all over the world whose only other exposure to law is usually
negative.

Hackett: Street Law's hands-on methodologies are the perfect match for
a pipeline program targeted to increasing diversity in the legal profession. The
program enables young people to learn about the law and legal careers and to
experience some of the work lawyers do. The objective is to encourage them to
develop their capacity to enter the legal profession.

Street Law programs are fun to teach. Typical lessons involve mock trials,
moot courts, mock negotiations, or simulated mediations.

Gloria Santona, the general counsel at McDonald's Corporation, piloted the
program with her legal department. The lawyers who participated found that
working with the kids was enjoyable, fun, challenging, and inspiring. [You can
read more about McDonald's experiences in The Metropolitan Corporate
Counsel's
July 2004 interview with Gloria Santona, available online at href="http://www.metrocorpcounsel.com/pdf/2004/July/01.pdf">www.metrocorpcounsel.com/pdf/2004/July/01.pdf

Arbetman: From that first pilot year at McDonald's, the Corporate
Diversity Pipeline Program has expanded to more than a dozen corporations in
eight cities. Most corporate programs follow a fairly standard model. Volunteer
legal department staff partner with nearby diverse high schools. The volunteers
visit the classes several times over the course of a semester. The topics they
teach are familiar to their corporate professional lives - torts, employment
law, contracts, dispute resolution and others. Towards the end of the semester,
the students spend a day at the corporate campus participating in hands-on
workshops, attending a career fair, and talking and bonding with their corporate
friends. The company then finds a compatible way to extend the Pipeline Program
for the most promising and interested students - perhaps a job shadowing day, a
summer internship or college scholarships.

Hackett: For the participating corporations, the Pipeline Project has
many attractive features. Its manageable and schedule-friendly time commitment
accomodates busy practitioners. The project offers plenty of administrative
support. Its infrastructure contributes to a relatively easy, turn-key
participation opportunity.

The company's corporate management loves to support these projects because
they are all about education and investment in students of color and in
underserved populations in the local community. It is also an initiative that
lawyers and support staff can join together to work on. Through Street Law, we
help the corporate community not only to focus on the needs of lawyers of color
in the legal profession today, but also we help to ensure a more highly
populated and well-beaten pathway for lawyers of color to travel to reach our
profession in the future.

Arbetman: We've also begun developing Pipeline Programs with ACC
chapters. Our longest running effort is with the Central Pennsylvania ACC
Chapter. Its team of volunteer attorneys have partnered with schools in Hershey
and Harrisburg and have coached mock trial teams from those schools to the
Pennsylvania Bar State Mock Trial Competition. The Chapter leaders (Frank Miles,
general counsel at Hershey Entertainment & Resorts; Barbara Sardella,
general counsel at Kinsley Construction, and Barbara McLemore, general counsel
at Gannett Fleming, Inc.) have expanded the program to include field trips to
courthouses, the state capitol, and Widener Law School. They've seen some of
their participants go on to college with a new desire and focus and intention to
study law.

Hackett: The program at Coca-Cola is now in its third successful year.
Under the leadership of Elizabeth Finn Johnson, the program creates a
professional atmosphere for the students. When students attend the one-day
conference and participate in workshops on mediation, contracts, and trademarks,
they are expected to dress professionally and network with the lawyers. The
students have a great time throughout the day negotiating a mock contract,
attempting to mediate a dispute between the company and a fictional sports star,
or learning how to trademark a new drink all the while making connections with
the corporate staff, trading business cards, and learning about legal careers.

Arbetman: The list of corporations participating in the Diversity
Pipeline Program continues to grow. To date, the list includes :


  • McDonald's Corporation

  • Abbott Laboratories

  • The Coca-Cola Company

  • Choice Hotels International

  • PPG Industries, Inc.

  • General Motors Corporation

  • Sears Holding Corporation

  • Fannie Mae

  • Merck & Co., Inc.

  • Marriott International, Inc.

  • Southern California Edison
  • Hackett: Street Law, Inc. and ACC are enthusiastic about the prospects
    for this initiative. The legal profession still lags behind other professions
    (including information technology, financial services, healthcare and
    engineering) in terms of diversity representation - other professions that have
    had Pipeline programs in place for many years.

    The Corporate Legal Diversity Pipeline Program can open students' minds to
    new career opportunities, while giving them the confidence, support, and role
    models that they'll need to succeed in pursuit of a legal career. Through this
    program, we are helping to build a better and more diverse future generation of
    legal talent, from which companies and their customers will benefit.