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Keeping the Door Open: The NALP/Street Law Legal Diversity Pipeline Program

Street Law, Inc.

Over 40 years of educating about law, democracy, and human rights

Keeping the Door Open: The NALP/Street Law Legal Diversity Pipeline Program

By Joy Dingle, Program Director of the NALP/Street Law Legal Diversity Pipeline Program

As an educator, one of the quotes that inspires my work most is: “You cannot be it if you cannot see it.” The NALP/Street Law Legal Diversity Pipeline Program for law firms exemplifies this concept. In its eighth year, the program is a national partnership between NALP and Street Law that partners law firms with nearby, diverse high school classes. Through classroom visits and a legal careers conference at the law firm, volunteer legal professionals teach lessons and lead activities designed to increase students’ knowledge and interest in the law and legal careers.

This is especially significant for students whose schools and surrounding communities may be under-resourced. Exposure to thoughtful and relevant experiential learning has the potential to open up a world of possibility for young people. While there are many initiatives to diversify the legal profession, the Legal Diversity Pipeline Program adds action to the term “college and career ready” often used in the K-12 arena.

With training and support from Street Law, volunteers in the program draw on their own educational and professional experiences; learn how to explain legal concepts to young people in plain language; use interactive teaching tools to engage students and create dialogue; and offer constructive criticism on how students use their newly acquired legal skills.

Volunteers teach classroom lessons and collaborate with students on a variety of topics such as contracts, sexual harassment, cyberbullying, legislation, social host liability, immigration, and freedom of religion. To help students understand these real-world issues more effectively, the volunteers lead students through workshops on these same topics through a series of simulated investigations, negotiations, trials, moot courts, and legislative hearings. When asked about her workshop participation at her school’s conference, a student remarked, “Questioning and investigating are fun!”

Students are impacted by the NALP/Street Law Legal Diversity Pipeline Program in numerous ways. On average, over two-thirds of participating students say they are more interested in legal careers after the program. When asked on a scale of 1 to 5 "How much did the lawyers inspire you?", students consistently respond with a score of 4 or above. At the end of a recent program, one student shared, "Usually I am pretty complacent, but in all honesty, it was a great experience."

Students report gaining and improving a number of skills through their participation — skills in areas such as acquiring new vocabulary, public speaking, paying greater attention to detail, advocating zealously, and supporting arguments with facts. After completing the program, many students are pleasantly surprised by the new ideas they have explored such as gaining practical knowledge of everyday legal issues, realizing how much work goes into changing laws, keeping an open mind, and considering all sides of an issue. The program may play a role in dispelling myths about the legal profession. One student recently remarked, “Lawyers are surprisingly easy to talk to and probably the least condescending people out there.”

Each legal careers conference provides an opportunity for students to network with legal professionals and develop skills in this area. Popular networking activities include a business card exchange, legal career bingo, and lunch with a professional. These interactions provide a chance for students to have one-on-one time with legal professionals and ask questions about the profession.

Opportunities for enhanced programming are available to participating firms. After the capstone legal careers conference, some firms offer additional classroom and law firm visits, sponsor college and law school field trips, and invite select students to participate in job shadowing and internship opportunities. Equally important, many of the volunteers and students develop meaningful professional relationships that lead to long-term role modeling and mentoring.

Last but not least, students come away with a more realistic sense of what legal careers entail, including the significance of reading and writing in legal careers, appreciation for the variety of legal careers, and increased understanding of multiple pathways to legal careers. One student was especially excited to learn that she could “become a legal professional at any time” during her career. Her classmate summed up one of the program’s objectives succinctly: “I can be anything I want.”

At the time of publication, the following firms are participating in the 2016-2017 Legal Diversity Pipeline Program:

  • Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod, Miami
  • Fox Rothschild, Philadelphia
  • Holland & Knight, Washington, DC
  • Holland & Knight, Miami
  • Hunton & Williams, New York
  • Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, New York
  • Schiff Hardin, Chicago
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, New York
  • White & Case, New York
  • Wiley Rein, Washington, DC

To learn more about the NALP/Street Law Legal Diversity Pipeline Program for law firms, contact Joy Dingle.

Reprinted from NALP Bulletin, January 2017.  2017 National Association for Law Placement, Inc.® (NALP®)

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Legal Diversity Pipeline Program for Law Firms