Law firms promise jobs before law school in new diversity push

REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Two big Ohio firms will help recruit minority students to the University of Dayton's law school, with full-time job commitments after they graduate
  • “It’s the Moneyball of legal education,” Dayton's dean says

(Reuters) - Could hiring lawyers before they even enroll in law school be part of the next wave of law firm diversity efforts?

Two Ohio firms are giving it a try, partnering with the University of Dayton School of Law to recruit J.D. students with a promise of tuition and living expenses, mentoring, and a full-time job once they graduate.

Thompson Hine and Taft Stettinius & Hollister are the first two firms to sign on to Dayton’s Flyer Legal Promise Program, which builds on an undergraduate scholarship program for underserved students from local high schools.

The law school and firms this year will select two students from that pool of undergraduates for full-ride scholarships to the J.D. program, paid for by the school. The sponsoring firms will cover two-thirds of an annual $15,000 living stipend, as well as summer jobs at the firms and a full-time job offer after graduation.

Many law firms have summer associate programs for diverse law students and so-called pipeline programs to get underrepresented students interested in law school and help them apply. But Dayton Law Dean Andrew Strauss said he doesn’t know of any other firms offering permanent jobs to would-be law students so early on.

“It’s the Moneyball of legal education,” said Strauss, who is looking to sign up more firms. “We’re going back in and we’re trying to figure out who has that raw talent—before they may even know themselves that they want to apply.”

Taft will help select the student it sponsors with an eye for those who have demonstrated resilience and drive, said partner Glen McMurry.

“We’re going to be giving them mentorship and training throughout their law school existence so that they hit the ground running for their summer associate position and for their associate position,” he said.

Both McMurry and Thompson Hine partner Wray Blattner acknowledged there are risks. The students could struggle in law school, drop out, or sour on a private practice job. But the prospect of developing a diverse associate who might not otherwise pursue a legal career is worth it, they said.

As companies demand more diversity from outside counsel and law firms realize having a mix of backgrounds and perspectives is an advantage, competition for top minority law graduates has ratcheted up, Blattner said.

“We like to think we’re locking in somebody,” he said. “That’s good for us. It’s good for our clients. And hopefully it’s good for the student-soon-to-be lawyer.”

Read more:

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New lawyer demographics show modest growth in minority attorneys

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at