A reoccurring discussion among legal professionals focuses on the lack of diversity within the field. While law firms and law schools attempt to diversify the profession, perhaps our outreach needs to extend beyond undergraduate campuses and into the K-12 space, as the youth are the future of the profession. Without reaching out to them early on to introduce and spark interest in the legal field, our diversity efforts will continue to fall short.
Street Law’s Legal Diversity Pipeline Programs
Street Law has designed its Legal Diversity Pipeline Programs to encourage youth from underrepresented groups to pursue the legal profession. Through teaching lessons and legal simulations, Street Law’s pipeline programs also provide students with a meaningful baseline of legal knowledge. Street Law has engaging lessons on a wide variety of civil law topics, including intellectual property, contracts, torts, alternative dispute resolution, employment law, and environmental law. Students are likely to encounter this wide range of legal topics as they navigate through life. Street Law’s teaching lessons help ensure that they are familiar with these topics to better advocate for themselves and others.
Making the Process Attainable
The importance of diversity pipeline programs cannot be overstated. Most of the students participating in these programs are members of minority groups that are grossly underrepresented in the legal profession. Consequently, many of these students are completely unaware of the myriad opportunities in the legal field—or worse, some cannot fathom pursuing a legal career, primarily because they rarely see anyone that looks like them in these positions. For some students, becoming a lawyer or legal professional may be a mere pipe dream or not on their radar at all.
For students who find the legal profession unattainable, Street Law and its pipeline programs bring the pursuit of a legal career within reach by increasing students’ familiarity with the profession and the myriad paths to get there. Candid conversations with lawyers and legal professionals are invaluable to these students, and these programs give students access. Students are exposed to the numerous opportunities in the legal field and can ask questions and gain valuable insight into a somewhat arcane process of becoming an attorney.
Uncovering Potential and Legal Interest
One of the most important aspects of Street Law’s diversity pipeline programs is the legal simulations. For instance, during the Street Law Workshop at Paul, Weiss in March 2021, students participated in a simulation where they applied specific negotiation techniques to resolve a hypothetical contract dispute. My job was to moderate as students negotiated to resolve the issue. It was a joy seeing students advocate for their side with so much passion. I had to remind them that the goal is not to dominate and shut down the other side like lawyers on TV but to serve their client’s interests to the greatest extent possible, which almost always requires some level of compromise. I reassure the students that this is a lesson every young attorney has to learn, even when we feel that our client’s wishes or demands seem bizarre or ridiculous—we have a duty to advocate for our clients zealously.
Aside from the lessons we teach, the most gratifying aspect of these simulations is seeing students realize their talent and potential. I’ve worked with several students who are naturals, and I’m always sure to let them know that with the proper schooling and training, they can do this job—even better than some of us.
Why Young Attorneys Should Participate
We Need to Pay It Forward
All young attorneys, especially those from underrepresented minority groups, should feel obligated to pay it forward. At some point in our legal journeys, someone inspired us to become our wildest dreams in a society that often reminded us that we had no place in this profession. Now that we’ve made it here, we have the opportunity to provide that same inspiration to the next group of aspiring attorneys. In fact, we owe it to them because we wouldn’t be here without the folks who did the same for us.
We Need to Share Our Experiences
Diverse attorneys should also participate in Street Law because it provides an opportunity to share relatable personal experiences. Students need to see themselves in positions they aspire to attain. We can provide that opportunity for these students by being open and transparent about the challenges and obstacles we face in our legal journeys.
The students in Street Law also provide valuable insight to young attorneys regarding the perception of the legal profession and why students may not want to pursue a legal career. These conversations are meaningful because they ensure that we know general deterrents for these students and can actively address any prevalent falsehoods. I’ve found myself working to debunk some of the same myths that I heard when I wanted to become a lawyer: I can’t go to law school if I don’t have straight As, I can’t go to law school if I don’t have the money to pay out of pocket, I can’t go to law school unless I get into a “top-ranked” college, I can’t go to law school unless I’m “pre-law” in college, etc. I’ve even had conversations with students who did not realize law school was only three years, as opposed to medical school or pursuing a PhD. In some instances, that alone has been enough to encourage students to pursue a career in the legal profession.
We Need to Remember Our “Why”
As young, diverse attorneys, participating in Street Law reminds us that we are in a profession that many students who look like us only dream of pursuing. Extending our efforts beyond undergraduate campuses and into the K-12 space allows us to help shape the future of the profession. If we allow it, Street Law can remind us of our “why” and that we serve a purpose beyond keeping money in our clients’ pockets.