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St. John's Law Programs and Initiatives Foster Diversity in the Legal Profession

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

From its start in downtown Brooklyn, St. John’s Law has been committed to improving diversity in the legal profession. Today, through initiatives coordinated by the Career Development Office, students have opportunities to participate in summer diversity programs offered by law firms, corporations, and local courts that enable them to gain valuable, hands-on legal experience.

In summer 2013, three rising 2Ls earned spots in the New York City Bar Diversity Fellowship Program. Lema Baha worked at Bank of New York Mellon, Sharly Larios worked at Bryan Cave, and Ayanna Thomas worked at Morgan Lewis. In addition, Alison Bomba ’14 participated in the Joint Minority Bar Association Judicial Internship Program, and Stephanie Lin ’15 participated in the New York County Lawyers’ Association Hon. Harold Baer and Dr. Suzanne Baer Minority Judicial Internship Program. Both programs place students of color in summer internships with federal and state court judges. Professor Elaine M. Chiu, faculty advisor to the Law School’s Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, and Professor Jacob L. Todres assisted in advising students about these opportunities.

Beyond working with students interested in summer diversity internships and fellowships, the Career Development Office offers a range of services and resources to guide students on their path to the legal profession. In October — teaming with the Law School’s student of color affinity organizations — it hosted a panel program on Diversifying Your Network with Professional Associations. The program featured representatives from various minority bar associations and professional associations, including Law School alumni Karina E. Alomar ’99 and William H. Ng ’07. Edda Santiago ’14, president of the St. John’s Latin American Law Students Association, served as moderator for the evening. After the program, students had an opportunity to network with the panelists.

The Law School’s commitment to fostering a diverse legal profession is also evident in the work of The Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development. The Center’s flagship pipeline initiative, the Ronald H. Brown Prep Program for College Students, launched in 2005 and has grown in collaboration with several partners, including United Negro College Fund member schools.

The Prep Program aims to encourage college sophomores and juniors from underrepresented backgrounds — often first in their family to attend college — to apply to law school and pursue the study and practice of law. In recent years, Prep Program participants have increased their LSAT scores by an average of 10 points. More importantly, earning millions of dollars of scholarships, over 80 percent of program graduates have been accepted to at least one law school.

In 2011, the American Bar Association Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline named the Prep Program the recipient of its Alexander Award for Excellence in Pipeline Diversity. Also in 2011, highlighting the need for a national dialogue on diversity in the law, The RHB Center hosted a symposium on Opening Doors: Making Diversity Matter in Law School Admissions.

Last month, The RHB Center’s director, Professor Leonard M. Baynes, and six St. John’s Law students from underrepresented backgrounds attended a full-day workshop on The Ethics of Diversity and the Politics of Inclusion: Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession at the New York office of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. Sponsored by the Institution for Inclusion in the Legal Profession, the event brought together a distinguished panel of corporate general counsel for an informative and thought-provoking dialogue on “the ethics, politics, and disparate objectives that may be underlying the diversity and inclusion stalemate of recent years” in America’s legal profession.

“Diversity is a core value of the legal profession, and a core value of St. John’s University,” said Dean Michael A. Simons. “Our Vincentian mission is rooted in a special commitment to those lacking economic, physical, or social advantages. The legal profession can carry that mission forward only if it reflects the people it serves.”