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Law firm on a quest to increase minority pool of lawyers

20th August 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Mason Harrison
Contributing Writer

Powerful attorneys—in Louisiana and around the country—are the stuff of legend and their careers have become fodder for a slew of court room novels, television mini-series and Hollywood scripts. But the high-stakes drama of the legal profession has long been marred by the industry’s lack of inclusion and diversity. Yet one of the state’s most powerful law firms is trying to change that by demonstrating the ins and outs of the legal field to area minorities who are interested in taking up law as their profession.

For the past six years, the Kean Miller law firm has recruited minority students to participate in a wide-ranging seminar covering topics like test preparation, how to apply to law school, and the numerous careers that are available to law school graduates. Known as the Kean Miller Connection program, the initiative has produced nearly 100 alumni and earned the firm a Human Rights Award from the Louisiana State Bar Association.

Edward Warner, a member of the program’s inaugural class, describes himself as being “a little deficient” in knowing how to become an attorney before enrolling in the Kean Miller program. “I had read a lot of biographies about different former attorneys and knew about all of the wonderful things that you can do as an attorney,” Warner says. But it was the practical knowledge provided through the Connection seminar that took Warner from knowing about the lives of other attorneys to knowing how to become one himself.

“I can’t emphasize enough that Kean Miller is a unique place,” Warner says, adding, “They made me a Kean Miller believer. I saw the kind of professionalism that you’d expect from an elite law firm and I saw that the firm has a dedication to diversity. I’ve lived on the East Coast and I’ve been to a number of different law firms and it’s really not the same.”

Warner stars in an online video about the Connection program where he touts the firm’s commitment to young would-be lawyers and points out that he is the first person to pursue a legal career in his family.

Following the Kean Miller seminar, Warner was admitted to American University’s school of law in Washington, D.C. Entering into one of the country’s top law programs was an experience he calls “surreal” and he credits Kean Miller and a supportive apparatus of family and friends for helping him to achieve it.

Next fall, he will embark on a clerkship for an area federal judge.

Steve Boutwell, who spearheads client services for Kean Miller, says efforts to diversify the legal profession are a product of changes in society at large. “As the needs of our clients change, law firms have to adapt to those changes,” he says. “Law firms have had success with integrating more women into the profession, but have been less successful in including more minorities and underrepresented groups.

The legal profession tends to be a number of years behind the broader business community, but as more and more people of color become corporate executives they expect to see their service providers in the legal field reflect that same diversity.”

Kean Miller is a full-service law firm with offices in Baton Rouge and New Orleans and employs more than 100 attorneys. The group’s Connection program is free-of-charge and is open to all minority college students interested in law.

Mallory Richard, a former Kean Miller participant and a political communications student at Louisiana State University, plans to be a part of the growing movement to diversify America’s law firms following her undergraduate tenure in Baton Rouge.

She describes her experience in the Connection program as “essential” to learning more about the legal profession and the various ways a law degree can be used in the workforce. “I honestly can’t say enough positive things about the Kean Miller program,” she says. Richard and her sister both participated in the seminar.

Prior to Kean Miller, Richard wasn’t entirely sure that she wanted to pursue a legal career. “Once I finished the program, I was certain that this is what I wanted to do with my life and it gave me the confidence necessary to do it.”

Richard says one of the biggest lessons learned from Kean Miller was developing a sense of purpose about the legal profession. “So many students go on to law school because they have no idea what to do after undergrad. Law schools are filled with people just like that, but at Kean Miller I learned the importance of choosing law as a career because that’s what you want to do and not because you don’t know what else to do.”

Richard is in her senior year at LSU and will begin mulling the law school application process this fall.

“There’s a lot you can do as a lawyer,” Boutwell notes. “We invite any student who is interested in the profession to enroll in our program and find out. Not all lawyers work for white-shoe firms in ivory towers.”

This article was originally published in the August 20, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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