Almost six years ago, I wrote in this column about the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group (PDLG) Summer 1L Program for diverse law students. At that point, the program was entering its fifth year. The economy was still in great shape. PDLG member firms almost universally had summer programs for law students. The summer associate groups in those firms were very large, and associate hiring was booming.

As I write this column in 2013, things have changed. The economy went through a recession. Many law firms laid off (by whatever name) associates, canceled summer programs, delayed start dates for incoming associates for up to a year and, even then, hired few entry-level lawyers. Now, as the economy emerges from the recession, not all firms have resumed their summer associate programs. The programs they do have are smaller, and new associate hiring is still far lower than before. Nevertheless, throughout this time, the PDLG Summer 1L Program has remained strong and, in fact, has grown. Even some firms and law departments that did not have summer programs still hired a PDLG Summer 1L Program student to keep the pipeline of diverse lawyers flowing. And those that could not participate for a while are all back. So where are we now?

Just to review, the goal of the PDLG program is to keep talented, diverse law students in the Philadelphia area by introducing them to our member firms and our member law departments through summer jobs after their first year of law school. In an ideal world, all those in the PDLG program would go to work at PDLG firms after graduation and stay to become partners at those firms, or go on to positions in PDLG member law departments. However, in the real world, we also succeed if, after graduation, they work in the Philadelphia-area legal community, whether in firms, judicial clerkships, government or public interest organizations. In other words, we succeed when we contribute to the development of the PDLG program participants who go on to successful careers.

PDLG defines as diverse anyone who comes from a disadvantaged background, or one that is underrepresented in the Philadelphia legal community, or who has had to face significant obstacles in the pursuit of a legal career. Finding the right diverse students is the PDLG’s task, aided in part by some area law schools. Students are chosen through a rigorous selection process. We look for and consistently find students who we believe have a substantial likelihood of success in the summer programs run by our member firms and legal departments. And we find them, many of them — often more than the PDLG program can accommodate. So we have also partnered with the Montgomery Bar Association’s Diversity 1L Summer Program, which has been hiring some of the students we find.

In some ways, the PDLG program has changed. We have gone from limiting participation to students from the seven local law schools (University of Pennsylvania Law School, Villanova University School of Law, Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, Rutgers School of Law-Camden, Widener University School of Law, Drexel University’s Earle Mack School of Law and Penn State University’s Dickinson School of Law) and the region’s single historically black university (Howard University), to including students from more than 25 law schools from the Northeast to the far West and everywhere in between. Our program has grown from 12 students and 12 employers in 2003 to 37 students and 30 employers in 2012. After our first five years, just under 100 students had spent their 1L summer as part of the program; as of 2012, we are even prouder to say we have had over 250 students participate in the program.

Despite the ups and downs of the economy, overall, about half of those in the PDLG program who have graduated from law school or will graduate this year have been hired as entry-level associates by many PDLG member firms, including: Archer & Greiner; Ballard Spahr; Blank Rome; Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney; Cozen O’Connor; Dechert; DLA Piper; Drinker, Biddle & Reath; Duane Morris; Fox Rothschild; Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel; Pepper Hamilton; Reed Smith; Saul Ewing; Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis; Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young; White and Williams; and the former Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen.

Some of these program alumni were hired by the firm where they worked their 1L summer, but some had worked at other PDLG law firms and some at PDLG law departments. Although law departments rarely hire right out of law school, many of our PDLG member law departments show their commitment to increasing the diversity of our legal community by hiring through the PDLG 1L Summer Program and partnering with our member law firms to help their students succeed. ACE USA; American Water; Aramark; AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP; Comcast Cable Communications; GlaxoSmithKline; Independence Blue Cross; State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.; Sunoco Inc.; Temple University’s Office of General Counsel; and the Vanguard Group all hire through the PDLG 1L Summer Program. PDLG participants have also worked their 1L summers at Dilworth Paxson and Saul Ewing.

The PDLG 1L Summer Program alumni do not only work for our member firms and law departments; they also work in other firms (large and small), for the federal government, as public defenders, in public interest firms and organizations, in accounting and financial management firms, in universities and law schools and in fields unrelated to the law. A number have had federal judicial clerkships, and some have had clerkships with state judges. Some have gone on to lead Philadelphia-area affinity bar associations, including the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania and the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia. One alum has just been named one of the "10 to watch" in On Being a Black Lawyer’s 2013 "Power 100 List."

While many of the PDLG alumni come from this area, not all do — which means we have been able both to keep many of the native Philadelphians here and to show those from elsewhere that this is a great place to live and practice law. A large number of those in this area remain committed to helping build the community and to working with PDLG in our programs for younger lawyers and law students. So many of the men and women in the PDLG Summer 1L Program have shown themselves to be just the kind of lawyers and, perhaps more importantly, the kind of people we want to be part of our professional world. PDLG takes great pleasure in knowing these people and bringing them into our local legal community. So to those who say that they would hire diverse candidates as associates if only there were enough qualified candidates around, we say you need to do a better job of looking for them. Be more receptive to diverse candidates and meet them with the same presumption of success you would any other candidate. There are so many smart, talented and interesting diverse law students out there, with so much potential — we in Philadelphia need to identify them and give them the opportunity and tools to thrive. The PDLG has been successful in building the diversity of the Philadelphia legal community for more than 10 years now. We invite you to join us. •

Lois Kimbol is a retired partner, now of counsel, in the environmental law group of Dechert. Kimbol was the first chairperson of Dechert’s diversity committee, of which she is still a member. She is on the board of the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group where she is the vice president for programs and chair of the Summer 1L Program.