Lawyer Pipeline Programs: The ABCs of Diversity

Pipeline ProgramsWe have all heard the saying it takes a village. Now it appears that a number of legal villages are growing nationwide, consisting of an ever-increasing number of attorneys dedicated to inspiring minorities to enter the legal field. The need is great.

Research shows that African Americans comprise 13.4% of the American population, but only 3.9% of this group practices law. Although Hispanics are the fastest growing group in America, currently at 14% of the population, only 3.3% practice law.

On average, African American and Hispanic high school students lag four years behind their Caucasian and Asian counterparts in the core subject areas of reading, math, U.S. History and geography. By the time these students reach college age, they lack the reading and critical judgment skills required to study the law.

Leave it to a growing group of attorneys to realize that the key to increasing minorities in the legal field is to inspire them academically to reach for their dreams at a much younger age.

High School Pipelines

Take for instance, Sam Finkelstein and Rather Stanton, both attorneys who left their full-time legal positions to pursue their vision of infusing diversity into the legal field. They co-founded the Legal Prep Charter Academy on the West side of Chicago, recently featured in Chicago Lawyer Magazine. Legal Prep, funded largely by lawyers, is the only legal-themed high school in Illinois with a goal to prepare its students, over 95% diverse and over 90% low-income, for a career in law.

Founded in August 2012, the school is now in its second year of operation, equipping and inspiring these students to take charge of their academic careers. Last year, in addition to their regular school work, and with the assistance of over 90 dedicated volunteer lawyers, the students learned how to develop a case for trial, culminating in a mock trial held in the Dirksen Federal Building. It is the school’s ultimate goal for 100% of each graduating class to attend college. It is also the school’s vision to replicate this type of academic environment across the country.

Other attorneys across the country also are committed to increasing diversity in the profession. College Bound, a four year comprehensive academic enrichment program established by Legal Outreach and its affiliated Summer Institute Programs at various law schools including Columbia and NYU, provides attorney mentors and other support for New York City high school students interested in pursuing legal careers.

These dedicated attorneys assist underprivileged minority students beginning in the summer following 8th grade graduation through high school in a curriculum that includes Saturday writing academies, mentoring activities and Constitutional Law Debates. Since the first College Bound class was graduated in 1993, over three hundred students have completed the program, with 99.4% attending college. In fact, more than half of the program’s graduates have matriculated at top universities and colleges throughout the country, including Yale, Columbia, and Harvard.

The Collateral Benefits Of Pipeline Programs

Research shows that participation in such enrichment programs increases a young student’s interest in pursuing a legal career and also may improve young peoples’ confidence in the legal system generally. For instance, the NALP/Street Law Legal Diversity Pipeline Program, a program that matches high school classrooms with law firms in an effort to encourage diverse students to pursue legal careers, surveyed whether its volunteer mentor/tutoring program motivated students to understand law or to consider pursuing a legal career.

Prior to beginning the program, 46% of those surveyed had considered becoming a lawyer. After participating in the program, however, 65% reported that they would consider such a career path. Survey results also showed that overwhelmingly, the students felt inspired by the lawyers as career role models.

Even if not all of the students involved in these pipeline programs become lawyers, they will be more engaged citizens as a result of their high school experiences. Knowing lawyers on a personal level and learning about the law can’t help but create more informed citizens with a greater appreciation for the laws that bind us together society. And that is a lesson worth sharing.

Are you involved in a diversity pipeline program that you want share with our readers? If so, let’s hear from you.

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Jayne Reardon
As a prior trial lawyer, Jayne leads lawyers to embrace the transformative possibilities of future law practice. As a prior disciplinary counsel, Jayne is passionate about promoting the core values of the legal profession. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and the University of Notre Dame. Jayne lives in Park Ridge, Illinois with her husband and those of her four children who are not otherwise living in college towns and beyond.
Jayne Reardon

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