The Leadership Council on Legal Diversity has nearly tripled the size of a fledgling program geared toward helping minority law students forge relationships with peers and with established law firm attorneys and general counsel.
The council, formed in 2009 to promote diversity throughout the profession by involving top leaders at law firms and legal departments, hosted 131 students in Chicago on Tuesday and Wednesday for its second annual 1L LCLD Scholars Retreat.
Although it was only the second time the retreat has been held, the event drew a much larger group than the initial cohort of 45 students. That first conference gave participants an opportunity to listen to stories of success and discuss how they could forge successful legal careers themselves, said Microsoft Corp. general counsel Brad Smith, who chairs the council's Pipeline Committee. Word spread about the retreat on campuses, and even more students wanted to participate this year, he said.
"We continue to face some real challenges in promoting a more diverse legal profession," he said. "We're talking with them about diversity in the law: what's going on in the courts and what we can do together to improve diversity in the profession."
According to NLJ affiliate The American Lawyer's 2012 Diversity Scorecard, 13.6 percent of lawyers at the nation's largest firms in 2011 were minority lawyers, compared to 13.9 percent in 2010. The publication said the slight decline might be due in part to changes in its methodology.
The students attending this year's retreat heard from a variety of speakers, including Smith, Clorox Co. general counsel Laura Stein and Hunton & Williams managing partner Wally Martinez, on topics ranging from interview skills; transitioning from law school into practice; the state of diversity in the legal profession; and the value of networking.
In addition to the retreat, participants -- all of whom have completed one year of law school -- will be paired with a mentor in a law firm or legal department, Smith said. More than 700 lawyers around the country have volunteered to serve as mentors.
"This is part of the [council's] array of strategic initiatives to bring strong, diverse talent into the profession and to see this talent flourish and assume positions of leadership in the years ahead," said council executive director Robert Grey Jr.
In addition to the annual 1L retreat, the council runs a fellows program through which law firms and legal departments send promising young attorneys to a series of conferences, mentoring and small-group projects intended to help them develop leadership skills.