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Essex County Counsel Steven Mannion was a struggling, confused, first-year law student in 1990. Then he started receiving guidance from Christopher Hartwyk, a lawyer he met by happenstance in a pub. Mannion credits that mentoring and a part-time job at Hartywk’s firm as the boost he needed for success as a student and practitioner. Seton Hall University School of Law also values mentors, especially for black and Hispanic students. But the school is too wise to trust the selection process to barroom luck. In an announcement likely to stir interest in schools around the country, Dean Patrick Hobbs and partners from six large firms said last week that the firms will each contribute $10,000 toward full scholarships for six minority students starting next fall. The school will make up the difference. The special added wrinkle is this: each firm will assign a partner and associate to mentor the scholarship winners. The relationships also will put the students in line for part-time and summer associate positions at the firms. No jobs are guaranteed. But it takes a 3.0 average to stay in the program — that’s a start toward a summer job — and it’s hard to picture a firm turning down an applicant it had mentored vigorously for the previous 12 months. Partners in Excellence, the school’s name for the program, is for “students who otherwise wouldn’t apply,” Hobbs said Nov. 14 at a meeting attended by representatives of the six firms. “This will be a good opportunity for these students to work hard and be the successes they are capable of being.” If the money plus mentoring idea works, it could be a model for regional law schools trying to attract the kind of minority students that Ivy League schools fight for. For Seton Hall’s goal is not to increase the minority population at a school whose current first-year class of 493 is 6 percent black, 8 percent Hispanic/Latino and 7 percent Asian-American. The goal is to attract the best and the brightest by giving them three things: a free ride, mentoring from high-level practitioners and the opportunity to position themselves with a major firm. The firms are Newark, N.J.’s Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, McCarter & English and Sills Cummis Radin Tischman Epstein & Gross; Morristown, N.J.’s Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti and McElroy, Deutsch & Mulvaney; and Woodbridge, N.J.’s Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer. Seton Hall will pay the remainder of the scholarship for the year, which is worth $27,650 in books, tuition and fees. For the firms, the program is an opportunity to put money toward a worthwhile cause, but it’s also a relatively inexpensive way to build bridges to minority students who have the academic qualifications to be potential candidates for associate jobs. These firms spend large sums for recruiting, notably for summer associate programs, and in the search for minority associates, “many times the dollars are wasted,” said Glenn Clark, managing partner of Riker Danzig. Spending $10,000 to create close relationship with coveted prospects is a reasonable proposition, Clark says. John Gibbons, the retired chief judge of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals now with Gibbons Del Deo, says it’s good to do something to keep bright black and Hispanic students in New Jersey after they graduate. Gibbons taught at Seton Hall for many years and he says, “The best minority students would end up at Wachtell Lipton, or someplace,” a reference to Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and other Wall Street firms. New Jersey’s three law schools have voiced a commitment to finding minority students with the capability and will to succeed, but some of the students have had rocky experiences like Mannion’s, which he shared with the audience at last week’s meeting. Now he’s a partner at Teaneck’s DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick, Gluck & Cole, but in 1990 he was the first member of his family to graduate from college. He trooped off to Seton Hall Law at the suggestion of an undergraduate adviser, without knowing what it would take to succeed. “I had never even met a lawyer before,” he says. He felt his writing was atrocious and his classmates intimidated him; they seemed to have a better grip on the work. One night, he and a few pals went to a pub in South Orange — it was called Ryan’s then, now it’s the Gaslight — and they struck up a conversation with Hartwyk, who had stopped off after a night meeting in the village. Hartwyk had graduated from Seton Hall Law in 1985 and was friendly enough to give Mannion and his friends an ad hoc tutorial on how to succeed at the school. He talked about the professors and studies and extracurricular activities and specialization and he urged them to obtain positions on law reviews. “I asked him, ‘what’s a law review,’ ” Mannion joked. But he found out and ended up being on three of them during his years at Seton Hall. He and Hartwyk remained friends and Hartwyk arranged a part-time clerk’s job for Mannion at his firm, Clapp & Eisenberg. Hartwyk, now a solo practitioner in South Orange, laughed when he heard Mannion had told the pub story and says, “ that’s the way it happened,” though he suggests his future role wasn’t that crucial. “Steve was the kind of guy who was going to find his way no matter what.” Still, he adds, everyone needs a mentor; his was a neighbor in South Orange, David Satz of Newark’s Saiber, Schlesinger, Satz & Goldstein. Mentoring is an integral part of student life at all New Jersey law schools, particularly for the substantial number of minority students. At Rutgers Law School-Newark, 37 percent of the students are from minority groups, and mentors are available. Neither of the Rutgers schools has a program like the one Seton Hall announced, and Hobbs says he knows of none like it in the country. Rutgers-Newark Dean Stewart Deutsch says of the idea of combining mentoring and money for scholarship, “it’s a great additional thing to do.” For Rutgers Law School-Camden, one of the largest firms in the area, Archer & Greiner, has been a longtime benefactor and mentor for students. Years ago, a consortium of New Jersey law firms formed an association called The Law Firm Group to promote minority hiring among themselves, and the membership is now up to 50, says its chair, James Flanagan III, a partner at Newark’s Tompkins, McGuire, Wachenfeld & Barry. The group sponsors an annual job fair to bring minority students together with hiring partners and provides mentoring, too, but its members make it clear to students that they are offering advice, not jobs. Whatever gains minorities are making when it comes to hiring at large firms, the number of minority partners at the biggest partnerships in New Jersey remains low. Last year, a survey of the 675 largest firms in the country by the National Association of Legal Placement showed that 1.1 percent of the partners at the largest New Jersey firms were African-Americans, Hispanics, Latinos and Asian-Americans. That was less than half the national average. Flanagan says Hobbs’ announcement is welcome news. “I think it’s a terrific idea and I’m pleased Seton Hall is doing it,” he says.

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