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Instead of inquiring whether coffee drinkers preferred “tall” or “venti,” first-year law school student Loretta James earned her summer money by clerking at Wendel, Rosen, Black & Deanin in Oakland, Calif. “You get very real life experience” in the Bay Area Minority Summer Clerkship Program, said James, a law student at the University of San Francisco who was one of nearly 20 students participating this summer. “Usually, it is really difficult to get into a law firm as a first-year,” she said. The East Bay organizers of the San Francisco Bay Area program want to give even more students like James this critical career boost. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ken Kawaichi would like to double the number of firms that employ the students. That means drumming up more participation in cities like Oakland. The Contra Costa County Bar Association, which hasn’t sponsored the program in the past, recently agreed to participate, said Executive Director Lisa Graves Reep. The program, sponsored by the Santa Clara, Alameda and San Francisco bar associations, began in the South Bay in 1990 and has expanded to include firms from San Francisco, Oakland and other cities. Students from Golden Gate University, Santa Clara University, Stanford, University of San Francisco, University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall and University of California Hastings College of the Law compete for the paid summer clerkship positions. Alameda County Assistant Public Defender James McWilliams and others involved in the East Bay effort acknowledge that the economic downturn may make the clerkship a hard sell. Many firms have trimmed attorney ranks to save money so there may be less enthusiasm for summer associate and other paid internship programs. If the firms are still employing other law school students, they can generally afford to take a clerk from the Bay Area program, he said. “I wish that more firms would do it,” said Christine Noma, a Wendel Rosen partner. Noma suspects that some Bay Area firms have been reluctant to be a part of the program because they want to handpick the law school students who work there. But the finalists “are the cream of the crop of law students out there,” said Noma. For example, in past years well over 300 students have applied. By the time organizers have a list of finalists, they “have already done a huge amount of weeding out,” she said. Lack of diversity in the top ranks of the U.S. law firms is an ongoing concern. Bay Area firms are among the most diverse in the nation, but like other U.S. firms, most minority lawyers are associates — not partners, according to a national survey conducted by American Lawyer Media. The Bay Area — led by Morrison & Foerster — boasted nine of the 25 firms with the largest percentages of minority lawyers, the survey of 214 firms found. Just two Bay Area firms — MoFo and Pillsbury Winthrop — were among the 10 firms with the most diverse partnerships. Firms have to be proactive to recruit and retain a diverse staff, one attorney said. “We want this to be an inclusive law firm,” said Simona Farrise, a partner at East Bay toxic tort firm Kazan, McClain, Edises, Simon & Abrams. Kazan McClain traditionally employs several clerks from the program. One former clerk from the program has become an associate, she said. “Diversity doesn’t just happen by accident. It requires a commitment,” she said. Last month the participating firms were recognized at an Oakland gathering organized by the Alameda County Bar Association. They included Kazan McClain; the Foster City, Calif., law offices of Larry Langley, which serves as in-house counsel for Safeco/American State Insurance Co.; Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein; McCutchen, Doyle, Bown & Enersen; Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker; Morrison & Foerster; Santa Clara County Counsel office; Shartsis, Friese & Ginsburg; Wendel Rosen; and Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison. Students say the program allows students and attorneys to form relationships that often last after graduation. One student who interned at Kazan McClain — a firm known for asbestos verdicts — said that Farrise was supportive about her goal to work with juvenile justice issues. “Asbestos is not my thing,” said Monic Behnken, who is starting her second year at Golden Gate University. “Sometimes when people look for someone to mentor, they want someone like themselves.” Farrise made sure that Behnken was exposed to aspects of the law that would help her, regardless of her career path, the student said. “It’s been wonderful,” said the Golden Gate student.

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