The Legal Pipeline – Carey R. Dunne

 Carey Dunne

President’s Column, January 2013

When the New York City Bar Association issued its Statement of Diversity Principles in 2004 to help create a more inclusive legal profession, the idea was not about quotas or standards but rather, as more and more people understand these days, about doing business better. “With greater diversity, we can be more creative, effective and just, bringing more varied perspectives, experiences, backgrounds, talents and interests to the practice of law and the administration of justice,” reads the Statement that has been signed by over 120 law firms and corporations.

The Statement also includes another key passage: “We recognize that achieving diversity is an evolutionary process that requires a continued renewal of our commitment to strategies of inclusion.” Transforming the workplace takes time, as the City Bar’s latest Diversity Benchmarking Report attests. While there were some improvements over the previous report, there were also some steps back. The rate of change can seem frustratingly slow. That’s why the City Bar has developed a program that, in addition to its ongoing work with legal employers, takes a longer-term perspective. Our ever-growing Diversity Pipeline Initiatives program is designed to prepare inner-city students with the information and skills needed to pursue a legal career.

Last summer marked the 20th anniversary of one of the pipeline initiatives, the Thurgood Marshall Summer Law Internship Program, which has placed over 2,000 high school students in summer legal internships. And in November, more than 150 high school students participated in our 10th Constitutional Rights Symposium for High School Students, where they discussed legal issues in a roundtable format with volunteer attorneys and judges. Since the program started in 2006, more than 2,200 high school students have visited the City Bar to participate.

Another beneficial initiative is an annual conference bringing together educators, employers, and others to identify key challenges to pipeline diversity and to come up with solutions. At the March 2011 conference, the participants noted that while there has been success in creating and sustaining programs geared toward diverse high school students and law students, there was a dearth of programs for college students and recent graduates, thus likely contributing to the decrease in numbers of diverse students applying to and attending law school. The City Bar’s Diversity Pipeline Initiatives Committee has just issued its second set of Best Practices for Building and Supporting the Pipeline, which focuses specifically on these cohorts of students; included are recommendations for providing undergraduates and recent graduates academic support and preparation for law school, career exploration and exposure to the profession, substantive skill development, and networking/mentoring opportunities.

To support students in college and after they graduate, last summer we launched our first Law Preview Scholarship with Practicing Attorneys for Law Students, Inc. (PALS), which provided full tuition for a week-long intensive law school preparation course to admitted students at regional law schools. This course is designed to give students a rigorous preview of the law school academic experience, as scholarship recipients are exposed to information on core first-year classes as well as note-taking, exam, and legal-writing strategies. Among the recipients of the first scholarship class were two Thurgood Marshall Summer Law Internship Program alumni. Additionally, scholarship recipients were introduced to law student membership at the City Bar and were enrolled in the PALS program.

In October, the City Bar hosted our first Mentor Negotiation Competition, in collaboration with the Fordham Law School Dispute Resolution Society. Sixteen teams from New York City high schools participated in the competition, and each team was assigned a mentor attorney to help prepare them for the competition. The Final Rounds were held at the Association, with former City Bar President John Feerick and three law-firm partners participating as judges. 

Later this month, with the Alliance of Securities and Finance Educators (ASAFE), we will provide a six-session seminar series on securities and finance law for diverse law students, designed to enhance diversity and inclusion in the securities and finance industry. The sessions will be presented by leading legal and compliance practitioners.

Finally, we just hosted our fourth LSAT/Law School Prep Series targeted toward diverse students, in which approximately 150 undergraduates and recent graduates came to the City Bar to sample LSAT preparation companies, participate in presentations on topics including the admission process and financing law school, and meet with law school admissions representatives.  

I encourage you to get involved in our Diversity Pipeline Initiative by volunteering at an event, hosting a summer intern, or making a donation to support its development. To get involved, please email the program director, Gabrielle Brown. To support these programs with a donation, please click here. And if your firm or company would like to add its name to the long and growing list of those who believe the legal profession will realize its full strength through diversity and inclusion, please click here to become a signatory to the Statement of Diversity Principles.