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To an outsider, it could have been a poetry reading, a debate over Napster or a rehearsal of thank-you speeches for the Oscars. However, to the audience of parents, mentors, supervisors and attorneys from Philadelphia area firms, it was a preview of the future of support staff. As they stood behind the podium to proudly demonstrate their newly acquired skills learned in speech and diction class, the fifteen interns of the Bridges program shared creative compositions, debated hot topics or defended various issues on the spot. At the end of each intern’s moment in the spotlight, gratitude was expressed for all those who helped make the Bridges dream a reality for them. The Bridges program, established by Philadelphia-based firm Dechert (Dechert Price & Rhoads at the time) three years ago, was designed to provide high school students with full-time jobs following graduation while simultaneously filling the needs of the firm’s support staffs. In essence, it affords students a “bridge” from their high school career to the workforce. Each intern is assigned a mentor and supervisor to offer training and guidance along the way, which helps ensure a successful transition. Bridges is a year-long program that offers juniors and seniors from local high schools the opportunity to combine education and real-world work experience culminating in full-time employment following graduation. Last year Dechert opened up the program to two other area firms. This year, a total of eight are participating: Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, Cozen & O’Connor, Dilworth Paxson, Duane Morris & Heckscher, Fox Rothschild O’Brien & Frankel, Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads and Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young. Dechert’s Bernhard Witter, founder of Bridges, said that the program began in recognition of area firms’ inability to recruit young people to fill support staffing needs. “Bridges was instituted to eliminate that obstacle,” Witter said. “It is our effort to re-establish our link to the high school community.” The program looks to recruit students from inner-city schools, an area less served by potential employers. Bridges targets high-achieving students who have opted to attend college on a part-time basis and offers tuition reimbursement to its interns. Indeed, there is an element of service on each firm’s part as they welcome local students and provide the training necessary to become competent and valuable employees. “The investment made is greater than that of a headhunter’s fee,” Witter said. “However, we hope that through our efforts, a greater degree of loyalty will result because each intern receives complete training and mentoring from one firm.” Joyce Krajian of Dechert, coordinator of Bridges, oversees each class of interns for the duration of their time in the program. “It is exciting to watch the transformation from regular high school students into poised young adults,” Krajian said. “They grow by leaps and bounds in both confidence and maturity.” Interns are recruited in the spring of their junior year of high school. They must undergo an application and interview process that includes parental involvement to ensure commitment. Formal training begins at the start of the summer that involves various classes in speech, writing, computer training, general life skills and legal education. In addition, interns simultaneously start work at one of the firms to familiarize themselves with aspects of daily life in the area of their choice. “The instruction we provide them is greater than the typical course-load of a college freshman,” Krajian said. “In addition, they are receiving valuable hands-on training in preparation for their future careers.” Bridges establishes a symbiotic relationship between firm and student. The firm provides the student with training and full-time employment. In return, the student becomes a valuable member of the firm’s support staff and remains loyal to that particular firm. Octavio Pineda, a Bridges intern, described Bridges as an invaluable opportunity. A recent graduate of Frankfurt High School, Pineda plans to attend Philadelphia Community College while working at Stradley Ronon. “This experience has provided me with so much exposure into many legal fields and has given me the chance to work in different kinds of support-staff positions,” Pineda said. “The Bridges staff, especially my mentor, has made all the difference and has made this an incredible opportunity for me.”

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