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The diversity pipeline just got another feed. The California Bar Foundation announced last week that it would begin offering individual scholarships worth up to $7,500 to students of underrepresented ethnicities across the state who would boost the diversity of the profession. By giving the money to incoming first-year law students, the foundation is targeting a group that’s been somewhat overlooked by law firm scholarship programs. “The incoming first-year class hasn’t had much help,” said Nancy Stagg, a San Diego litigation partner at Fish & Richardson and national chairwoman of that firm’s diversity program. “Most of the law firms wait to see if the students have made it through the first year.” The foundation’s executive director, Leslie Hatamiya, said the first year of law school is “when we think we can make the biggest impact.” Offering a financial boost in the first year, when students are typically encouraged not to work so they can focus on their courses, might encourage more minorities to go into law, she added. “Having that extra amount of funding in some ways relieves that extra stress.” The foundation says its goal is to raise about $100,000 in the first year to disburse to 16 students statewide. As of early last week, Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker; Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin; and Keesal, Young & Logan had already signed on as sponsors. Firms commit to give $10,000 annually for three years. The first year of law school is a critical time to offer support, said Anton Mack, Paul, Hastings’ managing director of diversity and global talent. “Some of the most challenging course work is in that first year. And also, a lot of hiring is based on their first-year performance.” Some law firms already help minority law students who have signed on for at least a summer associate post. Fish & Richardson is in its third year of topping paid summer positions for “diversity fellows” � women, minority, gay, lesbian or transgender students who’ve completed their first year of school � with a $5,000 scholarship. Three from the first round of six fellows are joining the firm in the fall, Stagg said, and all five from last year are coming back for a second summer. “We think it’s a great way to increase our diversity in our associates,” she said. Other bar groups, too, have tackled pipeline issues at the law school level.
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The Bar Association of San Francisco launched its diversity scholarship program in 1998 with an offer of $1,000 to minorities at Bay Area law schools. In 2004, that went up to $10,000, said program director Raquel Cabading. Open to first-, second- and third-year students, the aid is available for three years. But the California Bar Foundation is casting a wider net. Paul, Hastings’ Mack and Howard, Rice’s chief of diversity, Dipanwita Deb Amar, said their firms signed on to the three-year commitment with the foundation because of its statewide reach. “As a result, the scope of this program is a lot broader than a lot of private programs,” Amar said. Diversity specialists said any program that will help students make it through law school and land a job at a firm is a positive step, but only one of many to transform the profession from the prevalent monochrome. Morrison & Foerster partner Arturo Gonzalez, chairman of that firm’s diversity committee, said that how minorities, women or LGBTs are treated and assigned work makes a difference. “What is really important is when these students finally arrive that they be given good quality work,” Gonzalez said. MoFo is contemplating the launch of a program that is similar to the California Bar Foundation’s. “It would likely target entering law students,” he said. “We’re going to make a decision in time for the next academic year.”

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