Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images
Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Diversity Scholarships Announced at Two Major Law Firms

In an effort to improve their diversity profiles, two major law firms this week awarded scholarships to nine law students hailing from diverse backgrounds.

On the one hand, Ropes & Gray LLP awarded $25,000 individually to five law students who will join the firm as summer associates in 2017. Two join the Boston office; one joins in Chicago; and two join in New York.

The recipients are:

• Kenji Alexander, New York University School of Law

• Sofia McDonald, New York University School of Law

• Christina Ravelo, American University Washington College of Law

• Lindsay Richardson, University of South Carolina School of Law

• Benjamin Ruano, Boston College Law School

The firm, which has more than 1,100 lawyers and professionals, said that the scholarship honors the memory of Roscoe Trimmier Jr., a trial lawyer and the firm’s first African-American partner and a pioneering leader of the firm’s diversity efforts.

The scholarship was established in 2015 to commemorate Trimmier’s legacy and “to support students from backgrounds that are historically underrepresented in the legal profession,” the firm said.

Mayer Brown LLP, on the other hand, with more than 1,500 lawyers, awarded $15,000 individually to four law students who have already graduated the summer associate program and will now become full-time associates.

The recipients of the Mayer Brown scholarship are:

• Marcus Benning (Charlotte), Duke Law School

• Sandor Callahan (Los Angeles), Georgetown Law Center

• Luiz Miranda (Chicago), University of Miami School of Law

• Alexus Payton (Los Angeles), UC Berkeley School of Law

The firm said that the scholarship was created “to acknowledge and reward law students with strong academic records and who share the firm’s commitment to improving diversity in the legal profession.”

According to data reported to Vault, in 2015, out of Mayer Brown’s 388 partners, five were African American, 12 Hispanic and Latino, nine Asian, and nine openly-LGBT.

In a Big Law Business survey this week, feedback from 261 lawyers concluded money investment from law firms is the best way to resolve Big Law’s diversity problem. Click here to download the full report.

Big Law Business spoke with a recipient of the Mayer Brown scholarship and a lawyer overseeing the program.

Marcus Benning, 24, a third-year law student at Duke University, said the scholarship will help him alleviate his student loan debt.

“I grew up with modest financial means and I talked about how I had to persevere coming to Duke law school,” said Benning, a first generation college student from Atlanta, the child of a secretary and a truck driver.

“I had to navigate filling out law school applications and was unfamiliar with this life I was trying to apply for and explore.”

Jeremiah DeBerry, director of diversity and inclusion at Mayer Brown, said that the firm has improved its diversity profile among incoming associates. Out of 65 summer associates in 2016, DeBerry said 55 percent were either racial minorities, ethnic minorities or from the LGBT community. He said the numbers reflected a marked improvement from 2013, when he first arrived at the firm and the number of diverse summer associates hovered at 22 percent.

“The more diverse people we can get on the front end, the more we will have on the back-end — six or seven years from now we will have a larger pool of diverse candidates to select as partner,” he said.

Diversity in the firm’s higher ranks is more difficult to determine. The firm has a policy not to publicly distinguish equity from non-equity partners, and so it does not report how many equity partners are diverse.

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