This year Street Law, Inc., celebrated 40 years of providing accessible, engaging, and interactive programs to empower students and communities to become active, legally-savvy contributors to society. Street Law is a nonprofit organization headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area, whose classroom and community programs teach thousands of people about law, democracy, and human rights worldwide.
In Illinois, several companies and law firms participate in Street Law’s Legal Diversity Pipeline programs. Allstate, Baxter International, Inc., Caterpillar Inc., the Chicago Association of Corporate Council (ACC) chapter, DLA Piper, Verizon, General Electric, Jenner & Block, and McDonald’s Corporation are a part of this program. Street Law’s national partners in this initiative are the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) and NALP (the National Association for Law Placement). The Diversity Pipeline Program brings legal departments, law firms, law schools and high school students together to promote greater diversity in the legal profession. “In addition to the team building, we also strive to diversify our department, so it’s important for us to have diverse students as part of the pipeline” said Noni Ellison-Southall, senior counsel for Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. in Atlanta and a Street Law volunteer.
To achieve the objective, Street Law is focusing on strategies that will encourage minority students to enter the legal profession by providing students with role models, connections with legal professionals, and the opportunity to experience the work lawyers do. Volunteer legal professionals visit students’ classrooms to teach basic legal concepts, and then host the students on a day-long field trip to their corporate headquarters or law firm.
When departments, firms and schools first decide to participate, Street Law staff trains volunteers to use Street Law’s interactive teaching methods, and the organization works with volunteers to select fun and engaging activities. Then the volunteer lawyers and law students visit their partner classes to teach several substantive law lessons. The lessons are student-centered, interactive, and focus on encouraging students to develop and employ the types of analytical skills that lawyers need.
The highlight of the program—for both volunteers and students—is a day-long field trip with workshops that have included mock contract negotiations, legislative hearings, moot court arguments, and school board hearings. Some program sites also offer opportunities for teens to further their interest and understanding of the law profession by providing opportunities for students to shadow a lawyer or tour a nearby law school. Other volunteers have helped students with their college applications and some of the sponsoring firms and companies provide scholarship assistance.
The program has been extremely successful and has grown nationally. More than 45 corporations and ACC chapters, as well as nine national law firms and six law schools, currently participate in the Diversity Pipeline Programs. Collectively over 800 volunteers at these companies, firms, and law schools reach more than 3,000 students per year. In Chicago, legal departments, law schools and firms are working with 400 students each year. In Peoria, Caterpillar law department staff work with nearly 200 students each year. From the feedback Street Law receives, these schools and businesses find the program a wonderful way to build stronger relationships with their employees and students, their community, and ultimately—down the road—increase the richness and diversity of the legal profession.
Street Law and its corporate and law firm partners have also developed engaging practical law programs for teens aging out of the foster care system and for community college students. Information about all Street Law programs is available on its website, . ■