Maintaining and engaging a diverse workforce isn’t just a matter of equal opportunity – it’s an essential business strategy, with value tied to a broad range of perspectives, knowledge and skills. In this episode of The Robert Half Legal Report, attorneys Charles Volkert, senior district president at Robert Half Legal, and Joy Dingle, the director of legal diversity pipeline programs at Street Law, Inc., examine how legal community partnerships are being used to expose youth in underrepresented groups to the legal profession and help build a diverse pipeline of students who are interested in legal careers.
Charles Volkert, senior district president, Robert Half Legal.
Joy Dingle, director, legal diversity pipeline programs, Street Law, Inc.
Robert Half Legal Report
Strengthening Legal Workplace Diversity and Inclusion with Pipeline Programs
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Charles Volkert: Hello everyone and welcome. I’m Charles Volkert; Senior District President of Robert Half Legal and the host of our program. Our guest today is Joy Dingle, Director of Legal Diversity Pipeline Programs at Street Law, Inc., where she works with legal and education professionals to develop and manage programs that are designed to increase the knowledge and interest of high school students in the law and with legal careers.
With more than 20 years of experience in program management, teaching and curriculum design, Joy has focused much of her career on enhancing educational opportunities for underserved and underrepresented students. She is a graduate of Roger Williams University School of Law.
Welcome to the program, Joy.
Joy Dingle: Thank you. I’m pleased to be here.
Charles Volkert: Again, Joy, thanks so much for joining me. In the past podcasts and research programs for Robert Half Legal, we’ve examined why building and engaging a diverse workforce has become a critical business strategy, one that not only inspires public confidence in the legal system, but also contributes directly to a legal organization’s long-term success.
Today, Joy and I will be discussing diversity from an external perspective, specifically how outreach programs have become a proven and valuable resource to strengthen diversity within the legal field. As a global organization, we at Robert Half understand how important is to recognize the different backgrounds, life experiences and cultures among our staff and within the communities we serve.
Our company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion has its roots in the values of our founder, Robert Half himself. He was a catalyst for positive change in the employment industry. Bob Half lobbied against discriminatory hiring policies that were common at the time and led the successful effort to eliminate separate male and female job listings in our major newspapers.
Our company motto is Ethics First. It guides our business practices and makes diversity and inclusion a priority. Joy is a champion for legal pipeline programs. You have developed a strategic approach to diversity based on your extensive background as both an educator and as a legal professional.
I’ve read that a particular quote “You cannot be it if you cannot see it”, inspires your work. Can you explain how this concept serves as a foundation for the legal diversity initiatives you direct with law firms and corporate legal departments?
Joy Dingle: Absolutely, part of what we’re trying to accomplish with the students that we serve is to expose them to as many legal professionals and pathways within the career as we possibly can. And one of the easiest ways to do that is to actually show them the pathways and to have them participate in legal simulations, which are comparable to what legal professionals practice on a daily basis.
And so, a lot of the students that we serve will be the first in their families to attend college. Many do not know a legal professional personally or do not have one in their immediate circle. And so, when students have a chance to have their eyes opened, that seeing becomes believing and then they understand that a legal career is possible for them.
Charles Volkert: That’s outstanding and so impactful as well, both on those individuals as well as the greater legal community. What are the key components of your pipeline programs? Can you describe how they work for our audience?
Joy Dingle: So, our programs are designed to first of all, bring in legal volunteers from across the country, they participate from various firms and corporations. We train those individuals and how to work with high school students and then those volunteers go out and work with a partner teacher and a partner school, and actually deliver classroom lessons that are prepared by Street Law, Inc.
Those lessons tie into relevant legal issues that impact everyday people in their everyday lives and students usually find them quite interesting and engage very easily because they can relate to the information that’s being presented.
After those classroom visits, those very same students will visit the legal professionals where they actually work. So that could be at a law firm, it could be at a legal corporate department and those law students have an opportunity to become lawyers for the day essentially.
They will participate in all sorts of activities, have a chance to interact directly with the same legal professionals that they met in the classroom and just seeing the actual space, where legal work happens is a true eye-opener for students. Those are the main components of the program.
Charles Volkert: So, Joy, it’s apparent from your description that volunteers serve as a critical underpinning for your pipeline programs. How do you recruit volunteers and what training does your organization provide?
Joy Dingle: We recruit our volunteers through a number of existing networks. We have a great deal of support from the Association of Corporate Counsel and also from the National Association for Law Placement. And through those relationships lawyers and the organizations, where they work, often come to us with a strong interest in participating.
In the past, we’ve averaged about 1,400 to 1,500 legal volunteers. Recently those numbers have ticked up and currently we have about 1,800 legal volunteers who participate in our ongoing programs.
Charles Volkert: Well, thank you, Joy. That sounds like a very comprehensive approach to training your program volunteers.
We’ll get back to our discussion of legal pipeline program shortly; but first, it’s time for a quick break.
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Charles Volkert: Welcome back to the Robert Half Legal Report. I’m Chad Volkert and joining me today is Joy Dingle; the Director of Legal Diversity Pipeline Programs at Street Law.
We’ve been talking today about educational outreach initiatives that are designed to expand the pipeline of diverse candidates in law schools and ultimately strengthen diversity within the legal profession.
Joy, before the break, you were discussing how you would provide training and resources to volunteers who work with high school students to inform them about the legal sector and inspire them to pursue legal careers.
You’ve been running these programs for a number of years, so I know you feel confident they are making a positive difference. How do you measure the results and/or effectiveness of the legal pipeline initiatives?
Joy Dingle: We measure the results in a couple of different ways. The primary way we measure the results are by serving students immediately after they have finished the experience with us. And we use those surveys, first as feedback to improve the program, but also to hear directly from those who participated.
Most students at the end of the experience, report that they have a much greater interest in the legal profession and are much more likely to consider researching career paths that could bring them into the legal profession. Before the program starts, roughly about half of the students say that they had some mild interest and after the program generally 75% or sometimes more of the students say that they have a strong interest.
So, we know that something really important is happening after students have had an opportunity to meet the legal volunteers and participate in the entire cycle of the program.
Charles Volkert: That’s outstanding, I mean, to hear the numbers of excited individuals coming out of those presentations and educational formats and seminars. What do you think, Joy, has been the most positive and significant outcomes of the program, the elements or activities that have had the greatest impact on encouraging students to explore a career in the legal field, and also what has surprised you the most about the evaluation results?
Joy Dingle: Part of what we hear from participating students and also the partner teachers with whom we work is that for many of the students because this is the first time they are having this sort of in-depth experience with a professional from any background, students are very pleasantly surprised by how interested adults in their community are in their success, and also how many opportunities are actually available.
Most students’ perception of a legal profession and for many adults is through television, and obviously that only gives a very narrow view of the legal profession and often that’s dramatized.
So, when students are able to witness firsthand what happens in the legal profession and then try out those skills, build confidence with those skills and then meet those who are really interested in continuing professional relationships with them, the outcome is simply enormous.
I think what surprised me the most is that there is so much disparity within the United States public education system and despite those disparities there is an incredible amount of talent across our country.
Many of the young people who come to us face a number of challenges either at home or at their schools or generally in their communities, and that doesn’t seem to stop them from being curious, from wanting to acquire as much knowledge as possible and for wanting to do everything that it takes to become successful and productive adults.
And so, when I’m able to witness that firsthand as I travel to various sites across the country it’s really quite on-spiring.
Charles Volkert: Well, Joy, that’s very interesting and very positive feedback. Have you made adjustments to the pipeline program curriculum based on outcomes revealed through your evaluations?
Joy Dingle: Yes, we have made some changes. Often what students ask for is to learn about the most current news, and the most current things that are happening in the world. And so, when these types of things happen, we may not be in a position to rewrite a lesson right-away, but what we can do is try to put a focus on issues that are of greater importance to young people, and we make every effort to integrate those changes into our curriculum, so the next time those lessons are made available and the volunteers select those lessons, then students can have aversion that’s updated and meets the needs of what’s going on with that particular issue.
Charles Volkert: And Joy, I bet you’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from the legal volunteers who participate in the program, could you share some of that feedback with our listeners?
Joy Dingle: What a lot of legal volunteers say is that they are absolutely thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with young people who live in their communities, young people that they might not have otherwise met. Many of these volunteers end up serving as mentors for students, many of our volunteers return to us year after year because they so enjoyed the experience.
A lot of volunteers also report having an opportunity to team-build with their colleagues, those with whom they may not have a chance to interact on a daily basis, but because they all come together for this common cause. It’s really something that builds a lot of camaraderie amongst those volunteers who join our program.
Charles Volkert: It’s outstanding, obviously mutual rewards on both sides of the aisle, so to speak.
You mentioned earlier that many of the legal organizations you work with offer additional activities to students who demonstrate particular interest or potential in the field of law. Can you discuss some examples and the effectiveness of such follow-up initiatives?
Joy Dingle: Yes, we have several programs that offer enhanced activities for students. Some of those will include internship opportunities at specific companies and firms, and what’s especially encouraging is that many of those organizations will actually offer support to students in preparing their materials and give them feedback on their applications after they’ve been submitted.
And although some of the students will not ultimately end up being selected, it’s a great experience for them to understand all that goes into a competitive application, so that when those students have that experience again for other opportunities, then they are much better prepared.
We also have firms and corporations that sponsor campus visits to community colleges, to four-year colleges and to law schools. Again, this creates an incredible opportunity especially for schools that are underserved and may not have the opportunity to get those students to those campuses to see firsthand where so much of the learning happens. And so, that is a highly valuable experience that many of our partners end up providing for students.
Some also have additional opportunities for students to job shadow and participate in résumé reviews and putting together their professional profiles online. And again, all of these are experiences that really help students become college and career ready, and that’s the ultimate focus of what we’re trying to accomplish even for students who aren’t certain that they want to practice law.
We know that they can use those examples and those types of experiences to enjoy greater success after they graduate from high school.
Charles Volkert: Well, Joy, with those examples you can just hear the value being passed on to those students for their journey, maybe in law, but certainly for life overall.
As we discussed at the start of the program, there are many approaches that are having material impact on strengthening diversity in the legal profession, strategies that are being used by law firms as well as corporate legal departments to establish practices, engage employees and promote an office culture that values diversity. Beyond the formal legal pipeline programs that we’ve discussed today what other initiatives does your organization sponsor to promote social justice?
Joy Dingle: Street Law participates and has programming in a variety of areas. Our teacher professional development programs are quite well-known and we are highly invested in helping teachers especially those in social studies, increase their knowledge and skills so then they can go back to their respective classrooms and engage students at an even higher level.
We produce a number of textbooks including our practical guide on legal education and our United States Government Text, we are proud to partner with the Supreme Court Historical Society to provide programming, and also the landmarkcases.org website.
In other areas we have the Legal Life Skills Program, where young people who are often touched by the Juvenile Justice or Foster system participate with us and learn about practical aspects of the law so that they can empower themselves and make positive decisions after they complete their programs and then move on to become productive adults, and through the Legal Life Skills Program we also serve a number of survivors of intimate partner violence.
We’re especially proud of our partnerships with our Police and Teens Program where we bring together those two groups so that they can have dialogues around issues that impact the community and hopefully strengthen relationships between the two groups.
And last but not least, our legal education programs on the international stage serve as training grounds for educators and others to inspire young people to learn more about law and democracy and use them in ways that are meaningful in their home countries.
Charles Volkert: That’s outstanding, Joy. Obviously Street Law has their hands out in many different ways and involved within the communities across the country, which is just great to hear.
Unfortunately, it does look like we’ve reached the end of our program and that was a great and inspirational discussion. A special thanks to you, Joy. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Before we close, I’d like to let the audience know how they can contact you and where they can obtain more information.
Joy Dingle: They can contact me by sending an email to [email protected], that’s [email protected]. Also they can visit our website, which is streetlaw.org.
Charles Volkert: Excellent. Thank you, Joy. Our listeners can reach me at [email protected]. And you can also visit the Robert Half Legal website for additional information on legal career and management resources, including our latest salary guide for legal professionals, at roberthalflegal.com.
Thanks again, Joy, for joining us today and your passion about diversity and inclusion, and to our audience for listening.
Join us next time on the Robert Half Legal Report as we discuss important trends impacting the legal field and legal careers.
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