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Pepper Hamilton and Villanova University School of Law have teamed up in an effort to increase diversity within the profession. The diversity initiative encompasses four main components that attempt to reach minority students at various stages of their education. Pepper Hamilton will provide full, three-year scholarships to Villanova for two minority students each year for an indefinite time period, firm executive partner Robert E. Heideck said. The firm will help screen applicants along with the law school in choosing who will be awarded the scholarships. The second component of the program is the Pepper Hamilton Pathway Program in which the firm has committed to hire two Villanova Law School minority students each year, initially as first-year summer associates and then as part-time law clerks during their second and third academic years. The firm has also committed to send attorneys as lecturers and mentors to the law school’s national summer program for minority undergraduates. It is a six-week program for sophomores and juniors of historically black universities in an effort to introduce them to the possibilities of a legal career. The final component of the initiative is the annual Pepper Hamilton Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture. Villanova Law School has renamed the annual lecture after the firm. Heideck said many of the firm’s partners, including himself, are Villanova alumni and some have offered personal donations toward the initiative. The firm will fund the remainder of the project. Pepper Hamilton made a renewed commitment to diversity within the firm this year and created a diversity committee to monitor that goal, Heideck said. “We’re not satisfied, and I don’t know when we will be,” he said of the firm’s diversity numbers. He said the firm has belonged to virtually every organization committed to diversity and said a visible improvement will take a long time. Firm commercial partner Joseph V. Del Raso is on the board at Villanova Law School and helped formulate this program with the school’s dean, Mark A. Sargent. “Pepper’s diversity initiative will provide much-needed support to Villanova Law School’s minority students, for which we are sincerely grateful,” Sargent said in a statement. “It also demonstrates the firm’s commitment to achieving greater diversity within the legal community and Pepper itself, and will provide the firm with the opportunity to identify outstanding minority students at an early stage. It’s a win-win for us all.” Pepper Hamilton of counsel April M. Byrd will act as the liaison between the firm and the law school. She previously served as the president of the law school’s Minority Alumni Association and sits on Pepper Hamilton’s diversity committee. She will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the program and will assist in vetting candidates for the scholarships and pathway programs. Byrd said she wants to see Pepper Hamilton “put more muscle” into improving diversity. Byrd will also teach at some of the national summer program lectures and workshops and will help recruit Pepper Hamilton lawyers to act as mentors for some of the students in the program. Shawane L. Lee of Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby is the co-chairwoman of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s minorities in the profession committee. “I don’t think that anything like this has been done before,” she said. “I really hope that some of the other law firms will follow in Pepper Hamilton’s lead.” Lee said the initiative is a great first step in increasing diversity among law firms. Many of the diversity programs, she said, don’t offer calculable results, but this program looks like it might. Even if firms cannot manage implementing all of the components of Pepper Hamilton’s program, Lee said they could take aspects of it and team up with other local law schools. The one problem in focusing on just the pathway program, for instance, is that it starts to get into the sensitive area of affirmative action, she said. “The way Pepper Hamilton has structured this, I think [it] has gotten around that,” Lee said. In addition to its partnership with Villanova Law School, Pepper Hamilton agreed last year to serve as one of the sponsors for Drexel University College of Law’s fellowship program for minority students. The program provides select students with cooperative education placements and $5,000 stipends for living expenses for each of the three years they are enrolled in the college.

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