The lack of diversity in the legal profession, particularly in the nation’s largest law firms, often referred to as "BigLaw," is no secret. However, it has and continues to improve thanks to the conscious efforts made by organizations and law firms.
A traditional leader in this industry is Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) Law. SEO Law provides its fellows with an 8-week paid internship at one of its partner law firms across the U.S. the summer before even beginning law school. This is a great opportunity for diverse students to gain hands-on experience and see how law firms truly operate as many of the firms fully integrate SEO Law Fellows into their summer associate program. This helps diverse law students develop tangible skills, which will make them attractive to recruiters for future summer associate positions in BigLaw.
Organizations that support historically underrepresented young people also play a role in cultivating a more diverse legal profession. For example, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) was pivotal in my career trajectory because it was during CHCI’s Internship Program where, through talking with my CHCI mentors and a Board Member, I learned about the world of BigLaw. Also, Point Foundation has been an amazing support because it is ready to connect its scholars to leaders in their desired industry while supporting scholars financially to pursue their education. For example, my mentor through the Point Foundation is an amazing, queer and gender non-conforming lawyer in BigLaw!
While these pipeline organizations are fantastic and needed, from my experience, I have learned that it is not enough to have these supportive programs without a desire and commitment from law firms to increase diversity and make BigLaw more inclusive. Firms can, and do, engage in this effort from a variety of ways, such as partnering with SEO Law or having their own initiatives for recruitment and retention of diverse talent.
Point Scholar Donna Scaffidi with White & Case and Michigan Law students
For example, White & Case (an SEO Law partner) has a 1L Diversity Fellowship, for which I was selected; I am excited to join the Firm in its New York office as a 2018 1L Diversity Fellow! Through this opportunity, fellows participate in all aspects of the Firm’s 10-week Summer Program, including training sessions, the US Summer Associate Conference, ongoing mentorship opportunities, networking with its lawyers, and attendance at social events. Also, a portion of the summer is spent working off-site at the offices of a Firm client. 1L Diversity Fellows gain valuable insight into what White & Case does and what it means to practice law by working with and observing its lawyers.
I am fortunate because my story is shaped by my experiences prior to law school of working in BigLaw as a legal recruiter at a preeminent global firm and as an SEO Law Fellow at another top firm. I do not doubt that I hold such strong sentiments because of where and with whom I worked, and because of the inclusive culture. However, I want to emphasize the power of exposure. For many, as is true for me, BigLaw can be an unknown and uncharted territory by anyone who has come before us in our family. Even more broadly, as a first-generation college graduate, any professional career can be only as conceivable as the media and outside influences make it to be. But, through exposure, I learned that I can feed my passion and intellectual appetite for the law by working on sophisticated client matters while positively uplifting and impacting the lives of those who will come after me by supporting sustainable, diverse talent pipelines all in one industry: BigLaw!
Thanks to the support and leadership of my colleagues and mentors, firms, organizations mentioned above, and those who came before me as I stand on the shoulders of giants, I have seen the power of, and am here today with the help of effective, sustainable, diverse talent pipelines. I hope to continue to be part of changing the landscape of BigLaw when I practice.
This post was written by Point Scholar Donna Scaffidi.
Donna is currently studying at the University of Michigan Law School while working to create and sustain a pipeline of diverse talent for those interested in pursuing a legal career. One of Donna’s goals after law school is to return to a law firm to continue these efforts, combining her passion for creating justice for all with her desire to work on sophisticated legal issues. Read more about Donna here.