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Scholarships aim to boost diversity in law firms and other fields

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In 2008, Haroon Anwar and Abhishek Dubé became the first two recipients of $10,000 diversity scholarships from Baker & Daniels. Recipients also receive summer associate positions with the firm – which Anwar a­nd Dubé said was of even greater value than the financial award.

The firm offered Anwar and Dubé full-time jobs at the end of their summer employment in 2009.

diversity Evelyn Gentry, Saolo Delgado, Haroon Anwar and Abhishek Dubé (left to right), say that Baker & Daniels diversity scholarships helped them launch their careers. Delgado, a 3L student, plans to the join the firm next year. The other three are associates with the firm. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

“If you look at big law firms, there just aren’t that many minorities in law firms and so to have a law firm go out on a limb and do something like this shows that we are serious about diversity,” Anwar said. “A lot of places say they’re committed to diversity, but it’s different to actually take action to back up what you’re saying. So I think that’s really important in terms of what the scholarship does.”

Embracing diversity

Baker & Daniels has offered the diversity scholarship each year since 2008. And the firm has a diversity committee and a Diversity and Pro Bono Manager, Brita Horvath.

In October, Baker & Daniels confirmed that it will merge with Minneapolis-based Faegre Benson, becoming Faegre Baker Daniels in 2012. Faegre Benson offers two $12,000 diversity scholarships each year, and Horvath said that was one of the many reasons the two firms felt they would make good partners.

“Diversity was an aspect of the due diligence for understanding the firm’s values, culture and interests,” she said. “It’s a source of pride and identity for all of our offices.”

Saulo Delgado, a 3L student at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, was a 2011 diversity scholarship recipient. He plans to join the firm after graduation, Horvath said.

“Diversity is more than just picking candidates, it’s more of a process,” Delgado said. “And I think that Baker & Daniels understands that it’s a process … it’s a commitment of 10 to 20 years, until you can grow your base.”

Other initiatives

In 2009, Ice Miller established a $25,000 scholarship fund at Butler. The annual award amount is based on variable market factors and will be $1,200 for the 2012 school year. Each year, the award is presented to a student who will contribute to the diversity of the student body, by way of gender, religion, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, national origin, age or disability.

Michael Blickman, a partner at Ice Miller, explained one of the reasons why the firm established the scholarship.

“It is definitely part of our culture, and when selecting a law firm, clients want to understand what a firm is committed to. We find that almost universally, clients are interested in knowing our diversity efforts,” he said.

One trend Ice Miller has noticed, Blickman observed, is the lack of diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematic – known as STEM – careers.

“To me, there is a national crisis in that they are underrepresented in STEM degrees, and women are underrepresented in all levels. Diversity is an issue that should be important to all Americans, and all lawyers,” he said.

In 2009, Krieg DeVault partnered with Rolls-Royce to award a $5,000 general legal diversity scholarship to a law student. The firm also partnered with Cummins to award a $5,000 intellectual property diversity scholarship to a law student with interest in pursuing IP law. Linda Cooley, Krieg DeVault Diversity Committee chair, said that the firm tries to promote diversity, not just in the field of law, but in the community. The lawyers recognize that their clients are interested in working with a firm that supports diversity.

“We had a major build-out here … and in doing so, one of the things we asked our building committee to do was to try to increase the number of minority- and women-owned businesses to do some of that work,” she said.

blockman Blickman

In January 2012, Krieg DeVault will host a statewide meet-and-greet for Black Law Student associations. Mauri Miller, president of the BLSA at Notre Dame Law School, planned and organized the event. Miller is one of the 2012 recipients of the Baker & Daniels diversity scholarship.

The benefit for firms

Both Delgado and Evelyn Gentry – a 2010 Baker & Daniels diversity scholarship recipient – had intended to join a small firm until they learned about the Baker & Daniels opportunity.

“During law school, I was convinced that a small firm was going to be the best fit for me,” Gentry said. But after interviewing with Baker & Daniels and learning about the scholarship, she began to rethink her career goals.

“I thought, maybe a mid- to large-size firm would be a good fit possibly, and that was something I hadn’t considered before,” she said. “I had a choice for summer in 2010 between Baker & Daniels and a smaller firm, and I just remember making my decision based on (thinking) – these people are really serious about diversity, they’re putting their money where their mouth is and I felt they were committed to it.”

Gentry is an associate in the firm’s labor and employment group.

Delgado also thought that his calling was at a small firm.

“The reason I came to law school is because I wanted to help the Hispanic community and I thought that the best way to do that was to go to a small firm where I could have an impact,” he said. “But in learning about the services that Baker & Daniels and a large firm can have, you can help the Hispanic communities or minorities on a larger scale. If you’re smaller, you can help one person do an immigration case here or there, but if you work for a bigger firm you have more services, more people that can help you.”

Delgado said he hopes other companies follow the kind of model Baker & Daniels has created.

“I guess I just hope that other firms and other corporations – not just law firms – seek their own initiatives, their own process, so that one day we can reflect what our nation looks like,” he said.•

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