The SCBA 1L Diversity Fellowship is a unique opportunity for first-year law students from McGeorge and UC Davis who are looking to gain practical hands-on experience in a law firm and are members of a racially or ethnically under-represented group, LGBTQ+, disabled, or are otherwise under-represented in the legal profession. According to a recent NALP study, less than 20% of equity partners are women and only 6.6% are racial or ethnic minorities. Statistics for associate-level positions are even more alarming: less than 4.5% of associates are Black/African-American; however, minority representation in the legal profession as a whole has seen slight increases over the past decade, particularly the representation of women in firms, showing that strides are being made to a more level playing field – albeit slowly. If you’re a 1L and are hesitant to apply because you’re not sure what practice area you want to pursue, or what type of firm or agency is right for you, don’t let that stop you from applying for this fellowship.
“I went into law school not knowing what to expect in any regard. When I heard about this fellowship, the idea of working at a BigLaw firm… was never on my list because I never thought I’d have any way of getting into [a place] like that,” says Adriana Garcia, a 2018 participant who did her fellowship at Carothers, DiSante & Freudenberger. The Diversity Fellowship not only opened the door to an opportunity that was considered a “long-shot,” but it also gave Adriana a better idea about the different career paths available to law students. For students that are still figuring out where and what they want to practice, the fellowship provides an opportunity to branch out and experience a side of law that may have previously seemed out of reach or not on their radar at all.
Most 1L students do not have much experience working in a professional office setting, if any at all, before starting the Diversity Fellowship. Even among students who previously had internships or other undergraduate work experiences in law firms, it is rare to have had the level of responsibility that comes with being a fellow. It can be a daunting task to prepare for: overcoming any nervousness you might have, maintaining a sense of self – often the very thing that makes you diverse and qualified for the fellowship – while adhering to company policies, and managing the flood of tasks coming from your supervisor and other attorneys in the office. But that’s why it’s important to remember the purpose of the program: to provide law students with real-world experience and promote diversity in the legal profession. Law firms that participate in this fellowship know that the selected students are there to learn and may not be able to do as many tasks on their own. While fellows will be treated like regular employees (e.g. being invited to work outings, writing briefs, attending client meetings, etc.), no one is expecting them to have the knowledge and skills of a Bar-certified and experienced lawyer, or even someone in their second or third year of law school.
For Adriana, it helped to have a few mentors to guide her and be available to confide in. “I found a mentor in my office the first day I was there, and… we were able to share experiences and she made me feel more comfortable because we were the minority; that’s why this program exists.” She continues, “I also contacted a former fellow who worked at the same firm so that I could ask her how I can be better prepared. That really eased my anxiety about what to expect and feeling more comfortable to ask for help from my supervisor and the other attorneys in the office.” We’ve mentioned how impactful a good mentor can be, and taking the time to talk to past fellows is arguably the best way to ease any anxiety you may have when preparing for or actively participating in this program. At the end of the day, the SCBA Diversity Fellowship is about teaching under-represented law students and helping them be better prepared for a career in law, and gaining the perspectives of students who have recently gone through the program will assuredly ease your mind if you’re hesitant about applying or anxious to start.
“Even if you’re unsure if you’d qualify or if [participating in the fellowship] is right for you, I’d highly recommend applying because there is no other opportunity like it,” Adriana concludes. “It’s not like any other internship or program out there. It gives you the chance to take on a certain level of responsibility and interact with practicing attorneys that you really can’t find outside of this fellowship.”
We’d like to congratulate the students who were accepted and participated in the SCBA Diversity Fellowship this past summer, and for anyone interested in learning more about the program and applying for the 2020 summer cohort, please contact the CDO at firstname.lastname@example.org.