In an effort to make the legal profession more diverse, the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law is partnering with four large law firms to help reach that goal right as people take their first step toward a legal career.
This fall, 11 first-year students received with financial and professional backing from DLA Piper US LLP, Gallagher Evelius & Jones LLP, Miles & Stockbridge PC and Pessin Katz Law P.A. as part of the inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Scholars Initiative.
"We are incredibly grateful to these firms for their leadership in addressing this challenge," said Dean Donald B. Tobin. "Our profession has talked about the importance of increasing diversity for years. This new collaboration is a significant step toward achieving that goal here in Maryland. I hope every law firm in the state will join us."
The participating law firms and the University of Maryland Baltimore Foundation (through matching funds) have collectively donated $700,000 to launch the program. The money provides scholarships for Diversity Scholars ranging from $5,000 to full tuition for all three years. UM Carey funded the remainder of the scholarships beyond the donated amount, said Heather Foss, assistant dean for development and alumni relations at UM Carey.
"Despite various efforts within the legal industry over a long period of time to diversity our ranks, most would agree that the results haven't measured up to expectations," said Guy E. Flynn, the partner-in-charge of DLA Piper's downtown Baltimore office. "We, as a profession and as individual firms, therefore, have a lot more work to do if we are to achieve and maintain the levels of diversity and inclusion that we expect of ourselves."
The initiative plans to select annually around 10 first-year students with strong academic records enrolling at UM Carey. The students must also have shown leadership skills and overcome challenges to reach their career goals, the school said.
The first class of Diversity Scholars has students who speak nine languages among them and hail from California, Texas and Maryland.
Among them students is Dominic Gilani, from Dallas. The 23-year-old learned about the diversity initiative when he applied and said it was a key factor in his decision to enroll.
"The fact that this program existed here assured me that the University of Maryland Carey Law School values a wide array of backgrounds, uniqueness, and personal characteristics," he said.
Besides providing financial support, the participating law firms will give Diversity Scholars individual mentoring with attorneys who are part of the initiative, networking events hosted by the firms and the larger Baltimore legal community and mock interview and skills training.
"If there is a focus on inclusion and equality, not only will there be more successful legal professionals, but these professionals will also enrich the quality of services provided to clients." said Camille A. Parker, a partner at Gallagher Evelius & Jones and one of the firm's representatives for the program.
After graduation, Gilani, who is the son of a small business owner, wants to work in private practice and represent small business owners. His larger aspiration is become a judge and "take an objective and factual approach to the economic affairs of small businesses as a judge," he said.
Law is among the least racially diverse professions in the nation. Eighty-eight percent of lawyers are white. Furthermore, while women make up a third of the profession, only 17 percent are equity partners, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The participating firms have taken steps to increase diversity in-house. In 2015, Miles & Stockbridge started a hiring practice modeled after the National Football League's "Rooney Rule," which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for each vacant coaching position. Miles & Stockbridge interviews at least one woman, minority or LGBT lawyer for each open position.
The firm has seen a dramatic increase in the diversity of its new hires. In 2016, 48 percent of the firm's new lawyers were minorities, according to a Daily Record survey of the largest law firms in the state.
That same survey found that Towson-based Pessin Katz Law has one of the highest percentages of women partners in the state, and offers flexible work policies, mentorship and career growth opportunities.