Merck And Street Law Work Together To Introduce Inner-City Students To Legal Careers

Saturday, July 1, 2006 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Kenneth C. Frazier, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Merck & Co., Inc. Their dialog reflects the perspectives that Mr. Frazier shared with students from Hoboken and Orange High Schools in New Jersey, who participated in a full-day Street Law, Inc. program at Merck's Corporate Headquarters in Whitehouse Station, NJ on May 2.

Editor: Why did you decide to host a Street Law program?

Frazier: Street Law is a great program for law departments that want to reach out to students in inner-city high schools and get them excited about legal concepts, provide them positive role models and mentors, and offer encouragement of all kinds. Merck's partnership with Street Law has been a fruitful one. Through our Street Law program, my legal team and I have had the opportunity to encourage students with diverse backgrounds to consider opportunities in the legal profession, specifically in-house corporate legal positions (attorneys, paralegals and administrative associates).

Editor: How does Merck's Street Law program benefit inner-city students?

Frazier: Our legal team partnered with the administrators and teachers at two diverse high schools in NewJersey, Hoboken and Orange, to create opportunities that the professional educators identified as most beneficial to their students. These included introductions to the principles of intellectual property law, contracts and dispute resolution by our Merck volunteers, many of whom visited the students' classrooms.

Later in the school year, the students spent a day at Merck's Headquarters where they participated in hands-on workshops to reinforce the principles that they learned in their classrooms and bonded with their corporate mentors.

The program culminated with an awards ceremony during which each participant received a certificate for completing the program and four students received scholarships.

Editor: Please give an example of Merck's Street Law curriculum.

Frazier: The Street Law curriculum enables corporate counsel to teach subjects within their expertise. Merck's patent attorneys, for example, taught students about the differences among patents, trademarks and copyrights when they visited the students' classrooms. During the follow-up workshop at Merck's Headquarters, the students reinforced their knowledge by identifying what might be a patentable discovery in a hypothetical prepared by Merck's experts. The curriculum included not only engaging discussions of how to secure patent protection but also involved the students in hands-on use of Merck's computers to perform preliminary searches for prior art. The students' energy and enthusiasm were contagious!

Editor: Why are you proud of your legal team that developed and participated in Merck's Street Law program?

Frazier: The success of our Street Law program resulted from the excellent collaboration throughout our organization, including our attorneys, paralegals and administrative associates alike. I am very fortunate to be general counsel for a company that has a very strong sense of community and commitment to humanitarian values. I felt a great sense of pride seeing the generosity with which my legal team shared their expertise and engaged in conversations with the inner-city students. The students could not have asked for better role models!

Editor: What led you to become a lawyer?

Frazier: I was born in 1954, the year of the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision. As the public looks back on the civil rights movement, much of their focus is on religious leaders and public activists. Other very important leaders in that era were the lawyers in the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who included Thurgood Marshall, who later became a Supreme Court Justice. They pursued the series of civil rights lawsuits that culminated in the Brown decision and were the heroes of my childhood.

Editor: Why do you think role models are important?

Frazier: When I was in high school, I worked in the law office of Ronald Binni. He was a lawyer who represented the poor and unfortunate clients who had no one else to help them. I learned very early about the important role that lawyers play in serving as guardians against abuse.

As a result of my mentor's influence, I personally do pro bono work, as well as encourage my colleagues to contribute their services, too. Before joining Merck, I practiced law with Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. What I valued most about the firm was its strong commitment to pro bono. While at the firm, I handled death row causes and taught in South Africa for five summers. I have been able to continue this kind of work here at Merck.

Editor: How do you describe your role as the general counsel of a company like Merck to young people?

Frazier: I explain that I am the head lawyer of an amazing group of people. I admire my legal team's commitment to excellence both in their practice of law as well as in their outreach to our local communities and beyond.

Editor: Why would you encourage law departments in other companies to develop Street Law programs?

Frazier: Companies need good lawyers to tackle their business and legal challenges. One of the characteristics of a good lawyer is the ability to communicate within his or her community. The most obvious example is the ability of a litigator to communicate with the members of the jury as well as the judge. As our communities benefit from ever increasing diversity, we need to ensure that the legal profession will be equally diverse. Street Law provides excellent resources to help open the minds of students with diverse backgrounds to the possibilities of a legal career.

Started in DC more than 30 years ago, Street Law has spread across the country. Today, more than 60 law schools teach Street Law and reach more than 300,000 high school students annually. Street Law's interactive lessons challenge students to develop communication, advocacy and decision-making skills. Street Law's hands-on methodologies help students to get excited about legal concepts, provide them positive role models and mentors, and offer encouragement of all kinds. To read about how the Association of Corporate Counsel is working with Street Law to engage law departments and corporate counsel in an effort to help motivate young people of color to extend their educations and consider legal careers, visit www.metrocorpcounsel.com/pdf/2006/March/49.pdf. For more information about Street Law, contact the Director of U.S. Programs, Lee Arbetman, at larbetman@streetlaw.org.