MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin Law Firm Foley and Lardner decided to take part in the Street Law Legal Diversity Pipeline Program in 2016 to teach high school students from diverse backgrounds about legal professions.
According to the National Association of Law Placement, less than 19% of lawyers across the country are people of color and less than 10% are women of color.
"It's a really good opportunity to meet those students, who are students that we might not otherwise meet, and for those students to get to know us and encourage them to pursue a career in the law," said Foley and Lardner Partner Nick Welle.
Welle describes the Street Law program as a mini law school. It takes place during the spring semester and is in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club. Students meet other weeks to go over various aspects of the law and put them into practices, that includes everything from mock contract negotiations to an argument in front of an appellate judge panel and a mock investigation of a sexual harassment allegation.
Since then, dozens of Milwaukee area students have completed the program, including Brandon Pope.
"It kind of solidified that, okay, this is something I see myself doing, something I really want to do," Pope said about his experience in the program in 2018.
After the program, he was able to secure an internship at Foley and Lardner and then went on to earn his undergraduate degree at U.W. Whitewater.
"I think Street Law does get the ball rolling on how we get more diversity into legal professions," Pope said.
After graduating from college, he returned to Foley and Lardner where he know works as an assistant. But still, he said he's often one of, if not the only, person of color in the room.
"Looking at whose in these officers, you don't see much diversity. But law schools themselves play a role in that too," he said. "But, it all starts with how do we get these opportunities to people that need them most and how can we nurture them in a way that they can go into different areas of law and law school."
He believes programs like Street Law are a helpful first step. He's also planning on attending law school next year and eventually returning as an associate at Foley and Lardner.
Amillia Bell is a Senior at Rufus King High School and a current student in the Street Law program. Despite being young, she already has big aspirations for a career in law.
"I want to become a lawyer and give back to my community. My biggest goal is to give back to youth specifically. I've been a part of inter-city public school and I've just seen how negative, external factors impacts young people and how it affects their goals and the achievement they're able to conquer after high school," Bell said. "I'm using my experiences with Street Law (to) guide me and help me figure those things out."
She said the lack of diversity in legal professions is part of the reason she wants to pursue a career in the law.
"I know there's not many people that look like me, that's why I'm really excited to have this opportunity with street law," Bell said.
Students in the program area also able to network with lawyers at various organization in Milwaukee like Harley Davidson and the Brewers. Opportunities are also available for them to pursue internships with those organizations or at Foley and Lardner.
"We want to be there to be their mentors, to guide them along, help them with a letter of recommendation," Welle said.