Over the past two decades, Sidley Austin LLP has developed or partnered in a comprehensive set of programs that encourage women, minority, LGBT, disabled and economically disadvantaged high school, college and law students to enter the legal profession and, specifically, the private practice of law. We encourage high school students to consider a career in the law, support college students seeking admission to law school, fund scholarships for law students and work to ensure that our newer diverse lawyers obtain early practical legal experience. Working with school administrators at every level, and in the communities where we practice, Sidley has supported the educational aspirations of thousands of diverse and economically disadvantaged students, and we are proud of the number who has entered the legal profession.
Elementary School Programs:
Over twenty five years ago, Sidley was the first Chicago law firm to “adopt” an elementary school, the Gerald Delgado Kanoon Magnet Elementary School, in a community service partnership. Kanoon is a pre-school through 8th grade school that serves economically disadvantaged children in a largely Latino community. We provide books and school supplies, computers, holiday meals, clothing and shoes, mentoring and support to every family in the school. We introduce many children to the idea of professional employment and to what it means to be a lawyer through “lawyers in the classroom,” mock trial and book groups. The Firm supports the school’s folkloric dance troupe, violin instruction, field trips, plays and musical performances. With our encouragement, we help many young students thrive in elementary school and launch well into high school.
High School Programs:
In Los Angeles, Sidley partners with Dorsey High School’s Law Magnet Program. Dorsey High School is one of a handful of schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, with a Law and Public Service Magnet Program which provides a school-within-a-school curriculum for students interested in careers in law and public service. Serving approximately 200 students in grades 9 through 12 annually, the program is designed to expose students to career opportunities in the legal arena, as well as volunteer activities throughout the community. Lawyers in Sidley’s Los Angeles office have presented seminars on campus, hosted students for field trips to the office, and organized field trips to courts and a law school. Sidley has also awarded an annual scholarship to a college-bound graduating senior.
Appellate Courts Experience (ACE) is another pipeline project aimed at increasing the interest of minority high school students in the legal profession. In conjunction with the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Appellate Courts Experience, members of Sidley’s Diversity Committee teach the basics of state court appellate process to students in high schools located in underprivileged and minority neighborhoods. This program combines classroom sessions, including discussions of an actual appellate case on calendar that semester, with a trip to the Court of Appeals to watch the case being argued, and to discuss the experience with judges from the panel.
In New York, Sidley has had an enduring relationship with the Justice Resource Center (JRC), a non-profit focused on the administration of law and civic education programs for school-age youth. Since 2002, the Firm has participated in the JRC’s MENTOR program, its premier collaboration between the legal profession and the school-age population. Sidley has partnered with the High School for Leadership and Public Service in Manhattan, where it works to expose its largely minority student body to the practice and study of law. Sidley lawyers have served as mentors and coaches to minority students participating in annual New York Moot Court and Mock Trial state competitions. We also take these students to a federal court twice a year, during which they observe a court proceeding, participate in a Q&A with the judge, and tour the courtroom and judge’s chambers. We have also arranged for summer internship positions for some of these students in our library and records departments.
Our New York office also participates in Legal Outreach, a 27-year-old program dedicated to encouraging the interest of inner-city high school youth in the legal profession. Each summer since 2009, Sidley has hosted four Legal Outreach students for a one-week internship which includes a mock oral argument presentation to firm lawyers, court visits with District Court and Appellate Court judges, and other educational activities.
In 2006, Sidley launched the Sidley Prelaw Scholars Initiative, the first program of its kind in the country. Designed to address the recent decline in minority enrollment in U.S. law schools, this program annually provides financial support and guidance to up to thirty six racially and/or ethnically minority college juniors and seniors who have an interest in attending law school, demonstrate academic promise, and have financial needs that inhibit their legal career aspirations. Over the years, we have recruited these students from approximately 154 colleges and universities of all kinds, working in collaboration with Deans, career services departments, pre-law student groups and faculty members. Economically disadvantaged minority students at these institutions are encouraged by college administrators to submit an application that demonstrates their academic success, financial need and leadership skills, as well as a personal statement about their desire to study law.
Sidley Scholars receive an initial award that pays the tuition of a Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) preparatory course, registration fees for the LSAT, and application fees for up to seven accredited law schools. Upon completing the LSAT preparatory course and law school applications, Scholars receive an additional scholarship award during their last year of college. At their request, they also may receive coaching on law school application preparation and are mentored by our lawyers and staff.
During the summer before law school matriculation, Sidley Scholars from the immediate prior year’s application cycle are invited to Sidley’s office in Chicago, Illinois, for an intensive two-day orientation to the traditional first year law school courses and law school life. This orientation is taught by Sidley partners and associates, joined by judges, academics and in-house counsel from some of Sidley’s clients. We are honored that Judge Anne Williams of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has supported our program from its inception and annually hosts the Scholars in her chambers for an inspirational dialogue about coming from humble beginnings to succeed in the legal profession. Scholars also hear from successful racially and ethnically diverse attorneys about diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.
Successful participants in the Sidley Prelaw Scholars Initiative have been entering the legal profession for the last 3 years. We have received almost 500 applications to participate in the Initiative and have paid for LSAT preparatory courses for 137 college students and law school applications for 92 of those students. Sidley Scholars have been accepted into some of the best law schools in the country and, after graduation, have gone to law firms of all sizes, , into government and corporate positions, education and business.
Law School Programs:
Sidley also supports minority, LGBT and/or disabled law students through the Sidley Diversity & Inclusion Scholarship. This $15,000 Scholarship is awarded to up to 21 minority, LGBT or disabled law students a year who accept a summer associate position at the Firm and who demonstrate an ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion in the profession. We also ask these students to act as mentors for our Sidley Prelaw Scholars. In this way, the Firm has supported students from their late college years, into and through law school, and into the profession as practicing attorneys.
In 2010, our Washington, D.C. office launched a mentorship program for a number of rising second-year diverse law students who have secured summer internships in the D.C. area. The program is intended to provide these students with career development strategies, information about the on-campus interviewing process, an understanding of D.C. law firms, and an opportunity to network with Sidley lawyers, judges and others in the legal community. Mentors and mentees meet informally to discuss topics such as the fall recruiting and summer associate program processes, interviewing best practices, and questions related to practice area selection. Program participants are also invited to attend opening and closing networking events, a formal workshop conducted by Sidley lawyers and recruiting staff, and our D.C. office’s Diversity Dialogues program that occurs each summer. Mentors and mentees often stay in touch during the subsequent law school years and into the mentees’ careers. Sidley’s Chicago office is planning to launch the same program in 2013.
In 2011, our New York office became a Diversity Trailblazer sponsor of Practicing Attorneys for Law Students (PALS), reflecting our deep commitment to building the pipeline of minority students into legal practice. A Sidley lawyer sits on the Board of this organization and several of our lawyers act as mentors to law students in the program. This fall, PALS and LatinoJustice will announce a partnership to establish a PALS civil rights Fellowship, underwritten in part by Sidley. Through this Fellowship, Sidley will sponsor a 2L student to work at LatinoJustice during the summer of 2013.
Sidley Austin was an inaugural member of the Leadership Council for Legal Diversity (LCLD). This organization has created a 1L Scholars program to place rising 1Ls in law firms and legal departments around the country. Sidley welcomed its first 1L Scholar in the summer of 2012, a young woman who was also the Firm’s USC Fellow for the summer. As part of the USC Fellows program, which was inaugurated between the University of Southern California Law School and the Firm more than ten years ago and has since been expanded to include other firms and companies, each year a diverse rising 1L USC student joins the Los Angeles office summer program for the first half of the summer and the USC General Counsel’s Office for the second half. The student is offered the Fellowship as part of the law school admissions package as an incentive to increase the pipeline of diverse law students at the University.
Early Experience Programs:
Once law students graduate and start working, they can feel as though they have been thrown into the “deep end of the pool.” To help those students, and particularly women, minorities, LGBT and disabled students, more quickly gain important practical legal skills, our Los Angeles office offers to pay all their incoming first year associates to work for six weeks in a pro bono or public service law organization. These new lawyers benefit tremendously from having opportunities to learn how to interview witnesses, argue motions, draft briefs, write orders and have other hands-on learning experiences that most first- year lawyers in large law firms do not have.
We strongly believe that developing a robust pipeline of diverse people into the legal profession does not end once students enter our Firm. The pipeline will grow stronger only if people in the pipeline see that they will have an equal chance to succeed, once they start practicing law. To boost the success and opportunities for our own newer minority, LGBT and disabled lawyers, we have created a work-focused Enhanced Mentoring Program. This program pairs diverse newer lawyers with senior practitioners in their practice groups. Senior partners are expected to work directly with their mentee or, if their work does not permit it, to find other senior partners with whom the mentee can work. Mentees are expected to receive challenging, skill building work, regular feedback, career advice, and access to client contact from this mentoring relationship. The Firm monitors the mentor/mentee pairings to ensure that the program is meeting its purpose.