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Philadelphia employers and city officials have long bemoaned the “brain drain” of local university graduates to larger, flashier cities, not to mention the lack of attraction the city holds for recent degree recipients who completed their studies in other parts of the country. But City Solicitor Nelson A. Diaz hopes that his two-year-old recruitment initiative, the Mayor John F. Street Honors Program, will help break that trend, at least as far as local law school graduates are concerned. “The obvious reason for starting this program was that we were losing a lot of talent in Philadelphia to other cities,” Diaz said. “So this lets me do some creaming of the crop.” At a news conference August 6 in City Hall’s Conversation Hall, the mayor presented 12 recent law school graduates with certificates of achievement as they began their first day of work for the City Solicitor’s Office. The Honors Program, which welcomed its second batch of rookie attorneys at last week’s ceremony, offers novice lawyers the opportunity to start their careers at a full gallop. The selected honorees are guaranteed one year’s employment with the Law Department in the division that best suits their prior training and career interests. After basic orientation training as a group, the honorees are sent to their assigned departments, given a mentor to provide guidance if needed, and left largely to their own devices, with their own caseloads and clients. “I think that being able to get into court a lot and have my own cases are what make this job great,” said Hercules Grigos, a member of the inaugural class of honorees and a 2002 graduate of Widener University School of Law. “From what I hear from some people that I know who work at big firms [in the private sector], they’re often stuck in the office all day, not seeing clients, just doing research. Here, there’s a certain degree of autonomy.” Grigos, a Huntingdon Valley native who attended Penn Charter High School, said he “absolutely” knew he wanted to settle in Philadelphia after law school but was unsure what capacity that would be in. “I interviewed at some big firms, some other government jobs,” Grigos said. “But this offered the most practical and diverse experience.” Grigos was assigned to the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative Unit of the city Code Division. He said most of his cases deal with dangerous buildings and fire code violations. Like Grigos, Mia Carpiniello, also from the inaugural class of honorees, is a native of the area, having been reared in Lower Merion. However, she left Philadelphia for undergraduate work at Columbia University and hadn’t lived in the area since then. After she graduated from law school at Georgetown University in 2001, she clerked for a federal judge in South Florida and considered the private sector briefly but knew that “government work seemed more exciting substantively.” “I feel like I’m a regular part of the staff here,” said Carpiniello, who was assigned to the Appeals and Legislation Unit. “That’s not something I think peers at big firms are getting.” Carpiniello said she soon realized the benefit of working in a second city, as opposed to Washington, D.C., or New York, where many of her friends from Georgetown work. “Philadelphia has the sophistication of a large city but the comfort and provincial feel of a smaller one,” she said. “The legal community here is small enough that you can really get to know people quickly, and I’ve seen a lot of that in just one year. For example, I’ve already begun to recognize people when I go to functions, and they recognize me. I’ve found that here you can feel like a fish in a pond, and not a fish in a huge sea.” Milton Velez, special assistant to the solicitor, said the program is geared toward maintaining as many local law school graduates as possible and looks for candidates who can show a prior interest in public service. “We’re hoping that by giving them the chance to do a lot, they’ll avoid the trap of bigger firms,” Velez said. He said another key aspect of the program is retaining new staffers: After their year in the program, honorees are offered a spot in the Law Department if one is available. Out of the 2002 class, 14 of 15 honorees will stay on. Grigos and Carpiniello are included in that number. “We have a fair amount of turnover [among our regular staff] due to the nature of the work,” Velez said. “And until the program’s creation, we typically did not hire students out of law school because we were usually able to hire people with more experience. But this system gives people a greater incentive for staying at the Law Department for a longer period of time.” Joseph Bradica, a 2002 graduate of Temple’s Beasley School of Law with a dual JD-MBA degree, said he knew he wanted to work in commercial litigation but didn’t think public service was even an option for someone in his position. “I had considered the public sector before hearing about the Honors Program but really didn’t know how you would get that type of job unless you had had an internship with, or knew someone in, city government,” said Bradica, who had an offer from a firm in Media before being chosen as an honoree. Diaz said his office had tried to make the classes of honorees as reflective of the Philadelphia community as possible. In last year’s class, he said, there were no Penn graduates, so this year, he made sure to include two in the program. And while the program has no quotas based on race, he said he aimed at making the groups of honorees as diverse as possible, in keeping with his goals of increasing diversity in the racial makeup of the Law Department as a whole. “I also wanted these kids to be truly representative of the city. When I started here, there were no Asians and only one Latino in positions that were not politically nominated. Right now there are four Asians and 12 Latinos,” Diaz said. “If you reach out to smart kids, they feel like they’re not being neglected as candidates for our positions. And if you’re bringing in a new group of diverse individuals every year, no subgroup of the community will feel neglected by the representation we provide.” One member of the 2002 class, Damon Roberts, a 2001 graduate of Howard University School of Law, was recently named president-elect of the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia, the city’s premier professional organization for African-American lawyers and judges. Velez said that no increase in funding was allotted to the department because of the program and that the honorees receive the same salary and benefits as any other entry-level attorneys. He said this year’s program will differ only slightly from last year’s. “Some people were reluctant to go to the morgue as part of their training,” Velez said. “And not everyone felt that touring a sewage plant was relevant to their work.” One honoree from the 2002 class, who did not wish to be named, said the new program seemed to cause some uncertainty among the regular staff. “The regular attorneys didn’t seem to know whether to treat us as peers or as just a step above interns,” the honoree said. “So there was a tough adjustment period for a couple of months, trying to integrate us into the Law Department culture.” But 2002 honoree Bradica, who will stay on at the Law Department along with Carpiniello and Grigos, said he enjoyed being the new kid on the block. “Our clients are the city departments. When something goes wrong, you deal with the commissioner of that department directly,” Bradica said. As a recent law school graduate, he added, he is often the youngest person in the room during a conference about a case he is handling. “It’s kind of fun and scary at the same time,” Bradica said. “Sometimes I come across one of my classmates’ names at the bottom of a motion, beneath the names of some associates and partners. Their product has to be approved by a chain of supervisors. When I get a case, that’s my matter.” This year’s honorees are Ebony Omar Bernazard, University of Pennsylvania; Alison D. Cleghorn, Widener University; Michael L. Detweiler, Boston College; Peter J. Gonzales, Temple University; Peter D. Han, Villanova University; Kenneth Johnson, Penn; Melanie J. Levin, Rutgers State University; Danielle Lopez, Temple; Geoffrey S. Nickerson, Villanova; Victor M. Sosa, Temple; William J. Spearing Jr., Temple; and Jake Wong, Villanova.

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