Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld is the latest firm to link up with in-house counsel to promote diverse legal talent, expanding its summer internship program for law students of underrepresented backgrounds.
This summer, 10 law students will spend six weeks of their summer at one of five participating Akin Gump offices followed by four weeks in a legal department. In-house participants include AT&T Inc., CenterPoint Energy, Morgan Stanley, the Gila River Indian Reservation, Textron Inc. and Trinity Industries Inc., all Akin Gump clients.
It's an expanded version of the Robert Strauss Diversity & Inclusion Scholarship program, named for a founding partner of the firm, which launched in 2014 as a summer internship at the firm for diverse second-year law students. The program will now target first-year law students to get diverse students involved in the firm earlier, though four second-year students are included this transition year. It's the first summer interns will also work in-house.
"We were seeing a tremendous amount of our clients who were as committed to diversity and inclusion efforts as we were," said Akin Gump firmwide hiring partner David Botter in an interview. "We said, 'Hey this is perfect, why don't we make the first-year program a program where students can spend some time at our law firm but also work with some of our equally committed clients and get a really well rounded experience."
Several firms and companies have teamed up to bolster the pipeline of diverse legal talent in the past two years. General counsel are increasingly vocal in their push for more diverse outside counsel, with 170 GCs signing onto a letter in January threatening to move business away from firms without women and people of color in partnership ranks.
In February, eBay, Facebook and five other tech companies announced the launch of a first-year law student diversity summer program split between their companies and 12 firms in Silicon Valley. A year earlier, Adobe Systems Inc. began partnering with its preferred firms for a similar first-year split-summer program for diverse law students. Google launched its Legal Summer Institute for diverse law students with firms last August.
Kellie Bullard, assistant vice president and senior legal counsel at AT&T and national coordinator for the AT&T legal department summer intern program, said Akin Gump's program is not the first time her company has paired with a firm to host split-summer interns. AT&T's in-house team has also hosted 11 full-summer law school interns each year for the past decade through a company program.
"But not only do we have our own program to promote our pipeline diversity initiatives, we encourage our law firm providers to commit to the same initiatives and to increasing the pipeline as well through their intern programs," Bullard said. "So we were excited when we were presented with the opportunity to team up with Akin Gump."
Both groups of AT&T interns "will work together" and be treated as "members of the legal department for the time they’re there," she said, with experiences varying daily based on their individual interests.
Sarah Teachout, the senior vice president and chief legal officer of Trinity Industries, said her department has hosted company interns before but never split intern's summer with a firm. When Akin Gump reached out, Teachout said she was excited by the opportunity to give diverse talent a glimpse at a "wide range" of legal career options.
"They’ll get to learn about managing different matters, whether it's a litigation matter, transactional matter, and understand how to manage matters from the in-house perspective and work with outside counsel," Teachout said. "They'll see it from the different angle and hopefully gain a better understanding of client service."
Students in the program also receive offers to join Akin Gump's second-year summer associate program and $25,000 each in law school scholarship. Akin Gump's Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., offices will host interns. All 10 students will convene at the New York office in June for a professional development summit with firm leaders and former scholars.
Akin Gump led the selection process and considered diverse candidates from a number of underrepresented backgrounds, including LGBTQ, low-income and minority students, according to a firm representative. Selected 2019 candidates hail from eight law schools: Harvard University, Tulane University, Howard University, University of Michigan, University of Houston, University of California at Berkeley, University of Texas and Georgetown University.
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