Students from the High School of Public Service in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and volunteers from the legal department at Marsh & McLennan gather for an all-day student legal conference at the MMC headquarters in Manhattan.
June 5, 2007
It’s not every day that a 10th grader from Crown Heights negotiates a multimillion-dollar insurance settlement or hires a personal trainer for a top record company.
But with a little help from the corporate law department at Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc. (MMC)’s New York headquarters, students from Brooklyn’s new School for Public Service accomplished both tasks during a special conference at the company’s Manhattan office last week.
Teacher Patricia Anderson said her social studies students did very well in the simulated legal situations. Some were convinced they want to become lawyers, while others might pursue a paralegal career.
“The purpose of the program is to expose students of diverse backgrounds to the diverse careers that are available in the legal field,” Anderson said. “There’s not a strong representation by people of color and women in corporate legal departments, particularly.”
MMC’s legal department initiated the project. The department was looking for a creative way to jump-start a new pro bono program when someone mentioned Street Law, Inc.
The non-profit organization was founded in 1972 to educate teens about law, democracy, and human rights. In 2002, Street Law started a “pipeline” program to connect corporations with law programs in urban high schools. Lee Arbetman, director of U.S. Programs, said 30 corporations across the country have joined the pipeline program, but MMC is the first one in the New York City area.
“It just seemed like an absolutely perfect fit for us,” said Ziporah Janowski, associate general counsel of Mercer (an MMC operating company). “The idea of bringing inner-city kids in, exposing them to corporate law.”
Arbetman said “it was a natural” to connect MMC with Anderson, who had just moved to Brooklyn from a large Maryland high school, where she had run a Street Law pipeline program for three years.
Anderson, Arbetman and Janowski met this winter to plan the pilot program. In addition to the conference at MMC, corporate attorneys taught two units at the school: insurance and negotiation skills, and employment law.
To prepare the students for last week’s conference, a team of four attorneys, a paralegal and an assistant from the corporate office traveled out to the school on Kingston Avenue.
Janowski was amazed to find herself near where she grew up in Flatbush, on East 19th Street between Albemarle and Beverley roads. The school has 406 students and occupies one hallway in the old Wingate High School. Wingate, which was overcrowded and violent, graduated its last class in 2006 and has been carved into four smaller, themed schools.
The School for Public Service, which opened in 2003, celebrates its first graduating class this month. Many of the students come from Central Brooklyn and 61.5 percent qualify for a free lunch, but attendance is high at 91 percent, and 92 percent of 10th graders passed the Math A exam, according to the independent Web site www.insideschools.com. All of the students enter either a medical or law academy at the school.
Janowski was impressed with the students’ enthusiastic participation and competitive spirit during the role-playing workshops. She also complimented Anderson as “one of those very special teachers who really makes a difference in people’s lives.”
Both Janowski and Anderson said they hope to expand the program in the fall semester.
At her previous school in Maryland, Anderson ran a Street Law partnership with the law department at Choice Hotels International, Inc. That collaboration developed into a six-week-long unit and paid summer internships for two students involved in the program.
“It’s just going to be for us to work out what’s most beneficial for this partnership,” Anderson said of the MMC program. The students “always appreciate when adults take a sincere interest in them, and they love to meet people who they can talk to about their future,” Anderson said. “They really appreciated the time and energy and sincerity of the efforts that the folks at MMC put into both the school visits and our visit to their offices.”
Michael G. Cherkasky, Esq., president and chief executive officer of MMC, said, “MMC is committed to pro-bono activity and this partnership has been a rewarding experience for the legal team here. Our colleagues have been impressed with the students from the High School of Public Service, and with their interest in learning more about the law and the culture of a large corporation.”
MMC is not the first corporate partner for these high-achieving students. In 2004, corporate attorneys from the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft began teaching classes there. The firm has added a mentoring program for about 50 11th and 12th grade students and this Thursday, June 7, it will host its second Young Women’s Leadership Conference for girls at the school.
Arbetman said other corporations in New York City have expressed an interest in Street Law’s partnership program, and other local schools will have the opportunity to participate.
It is a response “to the legal profession’s overall lack of diversity,” Arbetman said. “Everyone who’s serious about this problem knows that part of the solution has to be a pipeline solution.”
Student evaluations show the five-year-old program increases knowledge and interest in the law, Arbetman said, but “there’s no practical way to follow the students” and determine how many participants are applying to law school.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
(Reproduced with permission)
Corporate Legal Diversity Pipeline Program