fivehundred magazine > Diversity and inclusion > Building diversity into the legal talent pipeline

Building diversity into the legal talent pipeline

In a series of forthcoming articles, fivehundred will feature a selection of legal diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives from the US, highlighting the efforts of the law firms and GCs we work with in an effort to draw attention to the work being done in this area and hopefully inspire others to get involved. This inaugural article in the series focuses on promoting the law as a career amongst high school students from diverse backgrounds

Street Law’s Legal Diversity Pipeline Programs The legal teams seeking to make the most progress in terms of diversifying their talent pool are taking a multi-pronged approach in targeting diversity initiatives to recruit, retain, and promote individuals from different diversity backgrounds, while complementing this by addressing diversity at different career stages – or pre-career stage as is the case with the Street Law Legal Diversity Pipeline Programs (the ‘Programs’).

The Programs are designed to encourage young people from ethnic minority backgrounds to consider a career in the law. As the Program website highlights: ‘Our past experience has shown that many high school students are uninformed about the education needed and the process to become a lawyer, and lack a comprehensive understanding of the many types of work lawyers and other legal professionals do.’

Street Law partner with both the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) and the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) to deliver the Programs in the US – partnerships which ‘help them to extend their reach amongst the networks of these organisations and expand their volunteer base’, according to Street Law’s director for the Programs, Joy Dingle.

The Programs are supported by volunteer teams from both law firms and in-house legal departments who are partnered with diverse high school classes by the Street Law team. ‘The focus’, says Dingle, ‘is on high school students of colour and those who may be the first to [attend higher education] within their family’. The work of the Programs can be especially impactful in minority communities which have historical issues of trust with the law, and can help to dispel myths that are preventing those students from considering a legal career path.

According to Dingle, the Programs now have close to 2,000 legal volunteers and 70 active sites across the US. Both Holland & Knight and Paul, Weiss are participating firms, and were noted by Dingle for their outstanding contributions to the Programs. (And each firm has provided some additional insight into the Programs from their experiences with them below.) As with all of Street Law’s programmes, the work on the Legal Diversity Pipeline Programs is impressively carried out by a small sub-team of four. The team provide formal training, in-depth demonstrations, and lesson plans for all volunteer law firm and in-house teams.

As Dingle explains, her team are ‘very hands-on to ensure volunteers have the training needed and a full understanding of what is required’. One crucial focus of the training exists to remind the legal volunteer teams of the difference between the method of learning at high school level compared to that which they would more commonly have experience with from entry level lawyers who have been through higher education.

For their part, law firms and in-house teams enter into a formal agreement confirming their obligations and undertakings are understood. They commit to following through with the Program activities, which include a visit (or visits) to their partner high school classes to teach them about the law and to provide insight into legal careers from their own personal experiences.

At a legal careers conference at the end of each semester the students participate in interactive legal simulations where they can use the skills and knowledge acquired over the course of the Program.

While privacy laws restrict the Street Law team from tracking which high school participants go on to study law, they do receive feedback from some volunteer teams who keep in touch with promising student participants, or from the students themselves. Overall, however, their role is not to achieve set numbers of future law graduates, but rather to open the door to a legal career amongst minority background high school students and in doing so contribute to the pipeline of diverse legal talent.

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