Orrick “triple” on racial justice scholarships for his associates

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Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP in Washington, DC, United States REUTERS / Andrew Kelly

(Reuters) – When Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe launched their racial, social and economic justice scholarship program last year following George Floyd’s death, it seemed almost too good to be true for some associates.

Would the firm pay six lawyers their full Big Law salary for spending a year in nonprofits, working full time to make the world a better place?

“There was a little disbelief, like ‘Is this real?’ Siobhan Handley, the company’s director of talent, told me.

Not only was it real, but Orrick chairman Mitch Zuklie said in an exclusive interview that the company has decided to continue the program for at least three years. The next batch of fellows (there will be five in 2022) will be rolled out in January.

I doubt anyone would have blamed Orrick if the scholarships had been a one-time response to Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer and the calculation of racial injustice that followed. After all, it’s a substantial financial commitment to pay five or six mid-level associates between $ 275,000 and $ 350,000 each to work for someone else.

Instead, Zuklie and Handley said the company is committed to “tripling” its commitment.

“For us, a clear lesson over the past 18 months is that the private sector needs to scale up in a new way,” Zuklie said. “We felt an increased moral imperative to really think about the matter, because we have been sworn in as lawyers and we have an ethical obligation to promote justice.”

Many large law firms as the Black Lives Matter protests mounted pledged to enhance their own diversity and inclusion efforts, step up pro bono work, and make substantial donations to nonprofits. such as the Equal Justice Initiative, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.

Orrick did this too, but the executives at the company wanted something more and came up with the idea for the scholarship program.

About 60 associates of Orrick applied for fellowship, Handley said. Finalists interviewed with nonprofits, and business and organizations jointly selected the winners.

Seventh-year associate Andrea Mazingo, who focuses on financial services litigation and government investigations, spent the last year working for A New Way of Life Reentry Project, which provides housing, case management and pro bono legal services to women after release from prison.

Her roles have included representing previously incarcerated mothers in family and estates court to help them regain custody of their children as well as political and advocacy work.

“It’s extremely emotional work,” she told me. But it’s also deeply rewarding. “It sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime,” Mazingo said, and a reminder of the difference a lawyer can make. “It renews my passion” to be a lawyer, she said.

A New Way of Life founder Susan Burton told me that having Mazingo on staff this year “has meant so, so much.”

“Andi brought to A New Way of Life a level of experience, skill and legal knowledge that allowed us to create an entire department focused on women’s rights to reunite with their children and parental rights,” he said. she declared.

Walter Alarkon is another member of Orrick. The seventh year energy and infrastructure associate worked at Common Future, which describes itself as a “network of leaders (re) building an economy that includes everyone.”

Alarkon told me he was able to apply his skills as a transactional lawyer to help the Oakland, Calif., Based nonprofit create a legal structure for a loan program targeting underserved communities. of Minneapolis, Cincinnati and the indigenous peoples of the Southwestern United States.

As the son of Filipino immigrants, he said he felt a strong need to “do something about systemic racial inequalities.” By providing start-up loans of $ 5,000 to $ 30,000 to entrepreneurs on the basis of what Common Future calls “character-based loans,” Alarkon sees the possibility of creating opportunities that might have been previously denied.

The other inaugural fellows are white-collar associate Ciarra Carr, who works at the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard University; appeals partner Max Carter-Oberstone at the New York University Law School Police Project; litigation partner Rochelle Swartz at the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and employment law partner Roza Patterson at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.

The scholarship program is proving to be a boon to Orrick’s recruitment, Handley said. “There is no other law firm that does this,” she said. (Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom has a scholarship foundation, but its scholarship recipients are employees of the host organization and are paid $ 58,000 per year for two years, according to the Skadden Foundation. website.)

During recent on-campus law school interviews, Handley said, Orrick’s program was a topic of major interest among applicants and was cited by several new summer associates as one of the reasons to which they were drawn to the firm.

There has also been “an incredibly positive response from clients,” Handley said, adding that she hopes other companies will be inspired to launch their own scholarship programs.

“We would like to start a movement here,” she said. “We want to make changes to the industry.

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