While the law is often a catalyst for social growth, the diversity in our profession remains narrow. According to data from the Law Student Admission Counsel, in 2018, 88 percent of attorneys in the United States were white, and less than 38 percent were female. See Law School Admission Council, Diversity in the US Population & the Pipeline to Legal Careers. For 20 years, the ABA has been working to improve these numbers through a nonprofit project called the Judicial Intern Opportunity Program (JIOP).
JIOP helps law students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds by connecting them to judicial internships, mentorships, and networking opportunities that might otherwise not be available to them—and provides a stipend to ensure they can afford to participate. Currently, the program operates in 11 jurisdictions across the country. While the length of the internships and individual activities performed by law student interns may vary, each law student leaves with meaningful experiences and interactions with a judge, connections to the legal community, and resources to help the student succeed in his or her legal career.
Through 20 years of dedicated collaboration, JIOP organizers, volunteers, donors, and alumni have built a community of legal minds dedicated to improving the state of diversity in law. Although the JIOP internship itself runs only during the summer, the JIOP community works year-round to interview students, recruit judges, raise awareness and funds for scholarships and programming, and contribute their time and effort in other ways. Each year, their efforts are rewarded with the knowledge that they helped open that many more doors for bright and capable students whose contributions will continue to improve and expand the legal field.
There are many ways to help JIOP. Here are our top five reasons why you should.
1. You Will Grow Your Network
Through JIOP, you will find opportunities to connect with people from different walks of life. Volunteering allows you to meet new people, expanding your connections to attorneys, law students, judges, and others involved with the ABA. The networking opportunities may expose you to new career opportunities and develop new interests. For instance, you may meet fellow volunteers who work as attorneys in other law firms and in-house counsel at companies. You may find yourself sitting across from a judge or speaking with a law student who came from a different part of the world. Volunteering together strengthens relationships, and you know that you will develop meaningful relationships with good people. You will find your fellow volunteers, JIOP alumni, and judges to be justice-minded people who know how important it is to contribute their time to help others, to benefit the community, and to invest in the well-being of the profession.
2. Your Efforts Make a Difference
JIOP works because of the human connections the program provides to students who would otherwise not have the opportunity. In turn, JIOP alumni will go on to influence the legal field in the perspectives they bring to the law, the clients they are able to connect with, and the role the legal field plays in our developing society. JIOP alumni—and volunteers—are agents of change. Your efforts will ripple across the country through these law students’ careers as their lives touch others in the future.
3. It Benefits Your Health—and the Health of Your Firm
What lawyer could not benefit from a little self-care? Research shows that volunteering makes your immune system stronger, improves your mood, and reduces your overall stress levels. Removing the focus from oneself and concentrating on others’ needs makes people happier, resulting in higher self-confidence and mental and psychological protections against depression. In addition to the health benefits, JIOP volunteers have expressed that they appreciate stepping away from the billables and spending some energy on something that feels meaningful—all while networking and organically growing their own circle of influence. In addition, many clients appreciate seeing their counsel valuing diversity, and a JIOP sponsorship is an excellent way to demonstrate your firm’s commitment.
4. You Will Learn New Things
As part of the JIOP community, you will have the opportunity to build your résumé in a way that will benefit you in other areas of your life. Would you like to be published or reach an audience? Draft an article. Do you want to teach others and meet the next generation of legal stars? Become a mentor. Looking for diverse candidates for your firm? Sponsor the program, and host a networking event. Each of these outlets grows you and moves your career forward while improving the lives of others as well.
5. You Are Needed
No contribution is too small and no efforts go unappreciated. JIOP has many moving parts, from fundraising to publishing, from interviewing to interning. Each of these activities requires the assistance of individuals who volunteer their time, connections, and resources to make JIOP thrive. There are many volunteers of all ages and occupations. Judges, law firms, and others know that it is worthwhile to invest in these law students who are ensuring the quality of the future of our profession.
Want to get involved? Contact JIOP Program Director Gail Howard at Gail.Howard@americanbar.org.
Lisa Bivens is an attorney at Cohen Dowd Quigley in Phoenix, Arizona.
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