A pair of prominent law firms are stepping up their efforts to recruit women and minority law students with programs they say are unlike any others now offered in Big Law.
In June, Proskauer will launch its first “Proskauer Prep” bootcamp, bringing 30 women who are about to start law school to the firm’s New York office for a week of instruction on how to succeed in law school.
And Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom is beefing up its six-year-old 1L Scholars Program, allowing participants who return as summer associates the following year to design their own experience—choosing practice areas and offices where they wish to work and offering them a paid externship at the firm during the school year.
Both programs are intended to help the firms establish early connections with women and minority law students, in hopes that those students will eventually join the firms as associates.
“We want to keep women at the firm for as long as we can, said Joanne Ollman, chief professional resources officer at Proskauer, who is leading the new boot camp for women entering law school. “We like to think outside the box and think of things that other people haven’t thought of.”
At least one midsize law firm is getting into act, too. Cincinnati firm Keating Muething & Klekamp this month hosted the first-ever Law Student Diversity Case Competition, where teams of women and minority students from seven Midwest law firms demonstrate their associates skills by completing simulated client assignments. The competition was conceived as a way for employers to identify—and hire—diverse talent.
It’s no secret why law firms are looking to get creative in how they recruit diverse law students. Decadeslong efforts to diversify ranks, especially in Big Law, have yielded small, incremental results. Women now account for 45 percent of law firms associates, while 23 percent of those associates are minorities, according to the latest data from the National Association for Law Placement. But the figures are significantly lower at the partnership ranks. Women are a mere 23 percent of partners, and minorities comprise just nine percent of partners. At the same time, major clients such as Hewlett-Packard and Facebook Inc. now mandate that women and minorities be included on the teams that staff their matters. Those dynamics are leading law firms to rethink how to establish relationships with the diverse law students.
Proskauer’s new boot camp for women aims to help them develop the skills they need to succeed in law school before they ever set foot on campus, Ollman said. The firm plans to bring 30 women who have committed to attending law school in the fall to New York for a week—the firm will put them up in a nearby hotel, pay for meals, and give them a $1,000 stipend—while partners and new associates who are fresh out of law school will cover how to approach their upcoming studies.
“In law school, there’s a big difference in the way you study and the way you learn,” Ollman said. “That first six months of law school is a different educational experience than they’ve had in the four years of undergraduate. For better or worse, law school is very competitive and we want to give these women an edge.”
Proskauer hires about 60 summer associates every year, and boot camp participants will be guaranteed a callback interview with the firm for a summer associate position the following year. And while the boot camp roster is limited to 30 students, Proskauer expects that the program will enable the firm to get an early introduction to many more women on their way into law school, planting the seeds of a relationship. Boot camp applications are now open.
Skadden is taking a different tack by bolstering its already successful 1L Scholars Program in hopes of bringing more participants back as summer associates. The 1L Scholars Program is an 11-week paid summer internship for diverse students who have just completed their first year of law school. About 25 participants spend seven weeks at the firm and another four weeks with a client. It debuted in 2012 and has proven to be popular. Skadden received about 950 applications last year, according to director of talent acquisition Carol Sprague, and participants are chosen through several rounds of interviews.
Each year, between 60 and 70 percent of those 1L scholars opt to return to Skadden for the formal summer associate program. The firm hopes to increase that percentage with new enhancements that give 1L scholars more control over that second summer. The firm will heed their requests for rotations through an international office, more client exposure, or to work with a partner on public interests projects.
“One of the reasons we are tweaking the program this year is that more of our 1Ls scholars want to do different things,” Sprague said. “We have the ability to give them that opportunity because of our international offices and client outreach. They want to create their own 2L summer, and that’s why we decided we could do this a little more formally.”
In addition to having input on what they will do and where they will spend the 2L summer, the modified 1L Scholars Program gives them the option to complete a four-week, paid internship with the firm during the school year, as well as participate in a firm mentorship program and attend a firmwide reunion event. That ongoing exposure is intended to both help the student develop professionally and foster deep ties with Skadden, Sprague said. She added that she was unaware of any other firms giving summer associates this level of control over how and where they spend that summer.
“I’m hoping we’re giving them enough variety to pique their interest, that they don’t feel they need to look elsewhere,” Sprague said of 1L Scholars during the summer associate recruiting process.