The internet is an incredible, global tool with unparalleled power to touch millions, even billions, of people. All too often, as we saw during the last election cycle, the internet creates discord among us, marginalizing and intimidating underrepresented groups in the process. But the internet’s power can be used to uplift us as well. An event recently held by the ABA Law Practice Division, the ABA Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline, the ABA Young Lawyer’s Division, the ABA Law Student Division, and the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession—Talk2Ten—did just that.
In 2015, ABA Law Practice Division Diversity & Inclusion Committee Chair Bob Furnier and I recognized an under-utilized resource in the fight to improve diversity in our profession: the diversity-rich law schools of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)—Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University College of Law, Howard University School of Law, North Carolina Central University School of Law, Southern University Law Center, Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law, and The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. In early 2016, the Law Practice Division, along with several other organizations, piloted a program to connect the students of these six HBCU law schools with practicing attorneys around the country.
Dubbed “Talk2Ten,” referring to a commitment by participating organizations to speak to 10 law students during the event, the pilot program allowed practicing attorneys to find law students and engage with them in face-to-face online video meetings. The goal was to encourage real, personal interaction among practicing attorneys and a diverse set of students. In an age where the internet can pull people more and more apart, Talk2Ten was, and is, about bringing people together. The pilot program was a success, and so a second Talk2Ten was held beginning October 24th, 2016, coinciding with National HBCU Week.
Talk2Ten is an important event for the council and the three divisions, one that brings the power of the internet together with the recognition that connections matter in growing the careers of diverse lawyers. The response to the event was amazing — with lawyers participating from Fortune 500 legal departments (including Abercrombie & Fitch, Allstate, Microsoft, Scripps Networks Interactive and Shell Oil); large and small private law firms (including Armstrong Teasdale and Knobbe Martens), and government organizations (including Freddie Mac and the Department of Justice). Lawyers were matched with over 190 HBCU law students based on their interests.
Every lawyer can remember a connection that helped further his or her career, but so often those connections are based on luck or geography. Talk2Ten is designed to bring structure and opportunity to those who want to broaden their networks and further their careers. Using the event platform, hosted by LexVita.com, a professional network for attorneys, and LexSchola.com, a network exclusively for law students, the participating lawyers and students are able to learn about each other before choosing to meet.
But Talk2Ten also has a second goal, promoting the outstanding students of the HBCUs to an audience that may not generally recruit or network within their ranks. By using the video conference capabilities of the event platforms, Talk2Ten allows attorneys from all over the nation to make face-to-face connections with the students of the HBCUs without the need for expensive and time-consuming travel. Indeed, in the last event, lawyers heralding from New York, Florida, Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas, California, Washington and even Puerto Rico connected with students at schools that were hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away. By dramatically increasing the geographical reach of these schools, Talk2Ten helps introduce a diverse group of students to a larger audience within our profession, simultaneously raising the profile of HBCU law schools and promoting the good work done by these institutions.
Now more than ever, our profession must strive to improve diversity within our ranks, using whatever is at our disposal. Technology provides us with powerful tools to do just that. In fact, building off Talk2Ten’s success, the Law Practice Division is partnering with the ABA Commission on Disability Rights, the National Association of Attorneys with Disabilities, the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession, and the Young Lawyers Division of the Chicago Bar Association to host a live and online networking event for attorneys with disabilities to coincide with ABA TECHSHOW during March 15-18, 2017. The success of the first two Talk2Ten events should inspire all organizations to look at technology as another means to help the legal profession become truly diverse and inclusive. Meanwhile, those interested in future Talk2Ten events can find more information at Talk2Ten.com.
About the Author
Joan R.M. Bullock is a professor at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University College of Law, and is the former chair of the ABA Law Practice Division and present member on the ABA Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline.
(Feature Image Credit: ShutterStock)