Diversity Fellowship Programs Are on the Rise

K&L Gates LLP and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law on Thursday announced the creation of a diversity fellowship that will offer a full, three-year scholarship as well as a paid summer associate position at the firm in the student’s first and second summers of law school.

With the program, K&L Gates joins the ranks of other firms providing scholarship and summer work nationwide for students who can be considered diverse because of race, gender, sexual orientation or a host of other characteristics.

James Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement, said that while these fellowships have been offered by firms for a while, the programs have “morphed and changed over time.”

“It’s a competitive market for diverse candidates, so law firms try to make contact as early as possible,” he said. “Many offer opportunities in the first summer, with the ability — or even an obligation — to return the second summer.”

Scholarships are oftentimes part of the fellowship as well, he said. The investment can be significant depending on whether the firm or company is providing a scholarship or offering summer employment.

In April, the University of Washington School of Law announced the creation of the Gregoire Fellows program, what it called an “initiative to promote and enhance diversity at the UW School of Law and the Seattle region’s legal profession.”

Initial support for the program, named after the former Washington governor Christine Gregoire, comes from companies including Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft Corp., Nintendo of America Inc., Seattle Genetics Inc., Starbucks Corp., Vulcan Inc., Weyerhaeuser Co. Law firm backers include Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Foster Pepper PLLC, Lane Powell PC, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, Perkins Coie LLP, and Stoel Rives LLP, as well as K&L Gates.

The inaugural class of 15 students began their studies this fall, dean Kellye Testy said in an interview Friday. The program was supposed to have only nine students, but there was so much support from the business community that the program grew, she said.

The students in the Washington program will receive paid summer fellowships within the participating law firms and companies’ legal departments after the first year of study, along with opportunities to participate in a mentorship program run by Gregoire and Testy. In addition, there is a bar study stipend so the students won’t need to work while preparing for the exam.

The companies and the firms provide the employment, but it is the university that gives the scholarships.

As a public university, Washington gives diversity an “incredibly broad” definition so as not to run afoul of federal and state laws, Testy said.

Law firms, too, take an expansive view of what’s considered diverse. Morrison & Foerster LLP is in its fourth year of sponsoring a group of students at law schools nationwide. This year, the firm in a statement noted that LGBT students will be included for the first time.

The class of eight first-years receive paid summer associate positions in four of the firm’s U.S. offices. They were selected from 260 applicants, the firm said in a statement.

Of the group, half are women, while “Hispanic/Latino(a) law students and LGBT law students each represent 38 percent of the class.” In addition, 25 percent of the students are black and 13 percent self-identify with two or more groups.

Many firms with fellowships guarantee first summer employment and offer, but do not require, a return during the second summer.

That’s fine with Testy at the University of Washington.

“We want to give the students some room because they may want to do something different in their second summer,” she explained. “Our students are highly in demand.”