NEW YORK — The Bronx. Brooklyn. Newark. Charleston. These were some of the hometowns represented on a warm weeknight at the Hudson Yards office of the Cooley law firm, a gleaming expanse of open spaces and high-tech conference rooms outfitted with panoramic skyline views.
On this evening, the global law firm hosted the next generation of lawyers — college students and recent graduates in the Launching Your Career Professional Development & Networking Series, a program of the New York City Bar Association’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion and Committee on Diversity Pipeline Initiatives.
Now in its sixth year, Launching Your Career exposes underrepresented students to careers in the law and briefs them on the substantive and soft skills they’ll need in order to enter the industry, taking students directly into legal offices to learn from practicing attorneys. The 2019 class is the program’s largest yet, with more than 40 students convening weekly through March and April to hone writing skills and discuss office etiquette, pro bono work, and other professional development topics essential to preparing for a legal career.
The mid-April Launching Your Career seminar at Cooley focused on a crucial skill for success in the legal profession: building relationships. The speaker for the evening was Joseph Drayton, a partner at Cooley, President of the National Bar Association, and New York City Bar Executive Committee member. The first in his family to become an attorney, Drayton shared his journey from a University of Pennsylvania Law School student to his bar association involvement and navigating law firm life, and the mentors, sponsors, and relationships that opened opportunities and helped guide his path.
Drayton emphasized the importance of getting active in bar associations, citing the City Bar as the equivalence of a student organization for lawyers. On networking, Drayton advised students to realize that relationships are critical for securing business, and urged the group to get to know each other, make friends in law school, and learn what sets them apart in order to communicate what they have to offer while making meaningful connections.
“This is a phenomenal program,” Drayton remarked about Launching Your Career. “It’s essential to ensuring a pipeline into the legal profession and providing an opportunity for law school candidates to equip themselves for success from day one.”
Some of these students seem ready for day one and then some.
Madeline, an 18-year-old freshman at Stella and Charles Guttman Community College, hails from Brooklyn, NY and is fueled by the dedication and sacrifice of her parents that allowed her to enter the legal field. “Their jobs — all their struggles — have led up to this moment. Me being what I want to be in life will not only make me proud and make me a better person, it will also show them, this is what you have done — this is a product of you,” Madeline said. Her motivation doesn’t end there, however. “I want to inspire my siblings, future leaders of the next generation, and victims.”
For Daviel, 21, a student at Rutgers University from Newark, NJ, Launching Your Career is a bedrock for what’s to come. “The whole concept of the City Bar pipeline initiative is to essentially support folks who aren’t particularly well-connected or represented in the legal field,” he said. “It’s a great program that helps folks like me — I’m the first high school graduate, first college graduate, and the first person to even begin to conceptualize going into the legal field in my family. Programs like this are imperative.”
Darren, 29, a recent graduate of Hampton University and Morgan State University (MBA), a historically black university, is from Charleston, SC, and has personal and political motivations for pursuing a career in the law. “Identifying as an African-American in the black and brown community, some of the legal climates across the U.S. are not always very favoring for that community,” he said. “I want to use the legal field as advocacy and as a threshold to help educate, promote, and encourage others — not to fight the law — but to become partners with the law so that we all can make America a better place.”
The program’s relationship-building session reminded Sharna, 31, to step out of her comfort zone. A student at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Sharna has gained both insights and mentors from Launching Your Career and from her involvement with LatinoJustice LINK. She plans to pass it on. “For my friends who are aspiring to be lawyers, everything that I’ve learned from LatinoJustice and this program, I’ll give back to them,” she said.
Jesus, 24, a student at Lehman College, hopes to give back in the future by mentoring others as he has been mentored. His interest in the legal profession stems from a desire to improve systemic functions in education and immigration, through the lens of public policy.
The Launching Your Career event lasted well after the end of the last session, students stayed on the 44th floor conference room, mingling and laughing.
The connections built over the last several weeks were made possible by a massive team effort in partnership with City Bar committee members, volunteers who shared their career insights with students (including federal judges from the Eastern District and Southern District), and law firms that hosted program sessions.
Each stakeholder has a vested interest in supporting the success of these future lawyers, as we all do. A diverse and inclusive legal profession strengthens our democracy, our justice system, and our ability to realize our greatest potential.