To redress what it terms a "persistent lack of diversity" in the legal profession, one of the nation's largest corporate law firms -- and long the top-grossing firm on the Am Law 100 -- will commit $9.6 million over the next decade toward an honors program designed to encourage and support minority students at the City College of New York to become attorneys.
The Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom Honors Program in Legal Studies is set to begin on the 14,000-student Harlem campus this fall. Freshman and sophomores will be recruited for what will eventually involve 100 juniors and seniors in a two-year curriculum of course work and seminars to complement the school's range of undergraduate academic majors.
Senior partner Joseph H. Flom said the firm decided "to go big time" when six months ago a committee of Skadden partners was formed to contemplate a public interest initiative in observance of the firm's 60th anniversary.
Through his family's private foundation, Flom has long been involved with programs at City College, among the nation's most racially and ethnically diverse campuses.
"The main thing is to create a pipeline for minorities available for law firms to hire," said Flom, who called the initiative "ground-breaking."
Supporting one or two minority students at a time means "they don't have a peer study group to reinforce each other. That's why we decided to go big" by preparing 100 minority students each year to enter the nation's law schools.
Gregory H. Williams, president of City College, said Skadden's program is a natural addition to the school's 160-year tradition of educating poor and working-class students and "not only giving them access to the American dream, but also bringing their talents to every area of American society."
In financial terms, Skadden's new honors program at City College surpasses even the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, established in 1988 to commemorate the firm's 40th anniversary. To date under the fellowship program, one-year public service salaries have been underwritten by the firm for 503 law school graduates.
In addition to curricular work, the City College honors program includes financial assistance based on need and merit, LSAT preparation, counseling during transition from City College to law school, mentoring by Skadden lawyers and others, and paid summer internships at major law firms, corporations and public interest organizations nationwide.
The honors program also will include dormitory rooms for out-of-town applicants, an endowed professorship to oversee the program and campus space to house the Skadden Arps Legal Honors Center, where students may gather informally, for study, or to meet with advisors and adjunct instructors from Skadden and other firms, as well as in-house corporate counsel.
"It's all a work in progress. We're going to do whatever it takes," said Flom. As for the professorship, he said, "They can name it after me or whoever they want."
Among the first to sign on as an advisory board member for the project was Dean Elena Kagan of Harvard Law School, Flom's alma mater. Another early signatory was Dean Richard L. Revesz of New York University School of Law, who has frequently complained of the legal world's historically low ratio of minority attorneys.
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics over the past several years, only 11 percent of the nation's approximately 1 million lawyers come from the minority population, compared with 25 percent of physicians and surgeons, 21 percent of accountants and auditors, and 18 percent of college and university teachers.
Feeder institutions for the nation's law schools tend to graduate students considerably more affluent than those at City College, founded in 1847 as The Free Academy. City College has served many generations of poor and immigrant students, along with those who faced religious and ethnic discrimination. It was tuition-free until 1975.
Prior to Harvard Law, which he entered after serving in the military during World War II, Flom was himself a financially strapped night student at City College while working day jobs "to stay alive," he said.
"They gave me my chance," he said of the school. "So why shouldn't other people have a chance?"