For the past four months, West Virginia law firm Steptoe & Johnson PLLC has been working in partnership with Street Law and the West Virginia University College of Law to develop the Appalachian Legal Diversity & Inclusion Pipeline.
In addition to being the first Street Law Pipeline Program in West Virginia, the program is also unique because of its focus on reaching students in rural communities who are underrepresented in legal professions.
“We want to show students that there are opportunities in West Virginia that they hadn’t considered, like the legal profession” Steptoe & Johnson Senior Manager, Professional and Staff Development and pipeline program coordinator Jennifer Trippett said.
“Our goal is to retain young talent in West Virginia by introducing them to pathways to education, and ultimately employment, in our region.”
After meeting with the WVU College of Law to discuss the lack of diversity in legal professions, Steptoe & Johnson realized their diversity and inclusion efforts had to start before the candidates reached law school.
With that focus in mind, Trippett said she researched Street Law and found it had the best model for getting young people interested in the legal profession.
Street Law’s Legal Diversity Pipeline Programs are designed to encourage the pursuit of legal careers by young people from groups that are currently underrepresented in the legal profession. This is accomplished by providing training and curriculum to law firms and corporate legal departments who then visit partner classrooms throughout a semester to teach about civil law and legal careers.
The semester culminates in a Legal Careers Conference hosted by the company or law firm where the students participate in exciting, interactive legal simulations and legal career exploration.
Steptoe & Johnson’s program will initially partner with Fairmont Senior High School’s Advanced Placement Government class led by teacher Nick Bartic.
“Nick Bartic along with the Chair of their Social Studies Department, Mark Delligatti, and their Principal, Karen Finamore have been such fantastic, flexible partners,” Trippett said. “It’ll be hard to top that while searching for other partnerships.”
Steptoe & Johnson’s first classroom visit took place on March 9, with two more visits scheduled between March and April. The program will cumulate in a Legal Careers Conference in April.
Ultimately, between the program’s classroom visits and the Legal Careers Conference, 30–40 legal professionals from Steptoe & Johnson will volunteer their time and expertise for this initiative.
Enthusiastic to make an impact, the firm already has plans to expand their Pipeline Program by partnering with a second West Virginia school in fall 2020. They have been approached by a local vocational college for a partnership as well.
“Steptoe & Johnson was founded in West Virginia, and we remain committed to the state now and for generations to come,” said Steptoe & Johnson CEO Susan S. Brewer. “It is exciting to help make the Appalachian Legal Diversity & Inclusion Pipeline a reality in our endeavor to strengthen diversity and inclusion in the legal field.”
Image Caption: Attorneys from the Bridgeport and Morgantown offices of Steptoe & Johnson prepare for their first classroom visit at Fairmont Senior High School. Clockwise from top left are David Chaney, Ryan Loos, John Pizzo, Bonnie Thomas, and Alyssa Lazar.
Photo Credit: Joy Dingle