Business & Practice

Looking in High Schools to Diversify the Law

Sept. 14, 2016, 4:08 PM

To improve diversity in the corporate legal world, some lawyers are thinking it makes sense to start young.

Beginning in 2015, in-house lawyers at Hewlett Packard Enterprise recruited several law firms and other corporate legal departments in the Bay Area for a mentorship program for high school students from low-income areas.

During the past year, two dozen attorneys from Mayer Brown, White & Case, Ropes & Gray, Kirkland & Ellis, Google, HPE, HP Inc., Electronic Arts Inc., Acer and others teamed up with the Silicon Valley Urban Debate League — an organization that introduces high school students from low-income areas to formal debate — and developed a program to groom teenagers for legal careers.

Now, they’re hoping to take the program elsewhere. HPE’s vice president and associate general counsel Willie Hernandez said he made calls in July to the Washington Urban Debate League in the District of Columbia and has begun recruiting attorneys interested in mentoring a high school student, hopefully starting sometime this school year.

“The idea is that [the students] ... have a professional around them to say, ‘This is a goal you should aim for,’ whether it’s law or something else,” said David Trigaux, program director for the Washington Urban Debate League.

Between 80 and 90 percent of the students in the schools that Trigaux’ league serves are black or Latino. Many would be the first in their families to attend college.

Under the mentorship program, attorneys bring students to their law offices to give them an inside view of what it means to be a lawyer. The high school juniors, seniors and some sophomores also receive one-on-one mentoring from the attorneys, who are asked to make at least a five-year commitment to mentoring the students.

“The expectation is that over time, we’re going to have more of an impact and drive more of these kids to the profession in the process,” Hernandez said.

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