Widespread support from Florida's judiciary, law firms and organizations attracted a thousand picnickers to the Third Annual Minority Mentoring Picnic last month to celebrate and encourage diversity throughout the state's legal community. The picnic provided a fun-filled venue for judges, lawyers and other legal luminaries to mingle with minority law students from around the state.
The picnic concept developed three years ago when John Kozyak, founder of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton, PA, ran out of space at his home and firm for the networking receptions he hosted for minority law students. The popularity of the picnic grew first among students at the University of Miami and then branched out to other minority law student associations in South Florida. Last year, the picnic was expanded to all of Florida's minority law school students raising attendance to more than a thousand people including at least 50 judges.
Mr. Kozyak works closely with bar associations, ranging from the broad-based -- such as the Florida Bar -- to the specialized -- such as the Cuban American Bar Association and the Florida Association of Women Lawyers -- to develop successful mentoring programs for the students. The picnic provides a great venue for students to talk with leaders from Florida's legal community who, like Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy A. Quince, freely share their experience and provide advice to students.
The goal is to have every law student who attends the picnic to go home with at least one mentor. If they do not have a mentor when they arrive, they're given a 'Need Mentor' sticker, and the lawyers and judges seek them out. 'Need Mentee' stickers are given to lawyers, too.
'Mentoring relationships give minority law students a better chance at succeeding,' explained Linda Kleinman, Director & Chief Division Counsel, Southeast Toyota Distributors, LLC and member of the Board of Directors of the South Florida Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. 'The relationships students develop with legal professionals through the picnic and other networking events provide them an opportunity to seek guidance and practical tips for excelling as law students and eventually as members of the legal community.
'A diverse legal team is particularly important for corporations. An increasingly diverse workforce and customer base make diversity a business imperative,' Ms. Kleinman observed. 'As a member of Southeast Toyota's legal team, Iam well aware of how important diversity is for corporations trying to stay connected with employees, retailers and consumers in an increasingly diverse marketplace.'
While the focus was on making the connection between law students and professionals, the picnic also offered a host of children's activities to enable parents to focus on the mentoring and networking opportunities. ACC's South Florida Chapter sponsored a 'fun zone' featuring a great variety of activities for children of all ages - ranging from arts and crafts for younger children to rock climbing and monster golf for those more adventurous.
'We are very grateful for the generous support of Florida's in-house legal community, which helps each year's picnic to be better than the last,' said Mr. Kozyak.
Jairo G. Cano is an Associate Editor at The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel. He graduated in June 2006 from Seton Hall University School of Law.