Since the firm’s inception, the foundation for Lowenstein Sandler’s culture has always been firmly rooted in the recruiting and welcoming of colleagues from all backgrounds and experiences. A new firm initiative, called the LS Institute for Inclusion in the Law, aims to broaden that inclusive approach to reach beyond current members of the Lowenstein community to potential future members of the legal profession: first year, first-generation law students interested in pursuing a career in the legal industry generally, and “Big Law” in particular.
Lowenstein’s Diversity Leadership Network (DLN), an employee resource group focused on recruiting, supporting, and promoting attorneys from diverse backgrounds, recently decided to expand a program initially developed in 2020 called “Diversity Institute.” The new program, “Building Bridges: Empowering First Generation Law Students,” focuses on first-generation 1L students, who may not have had the same access to the networking, summer job opportunities, and internships enjoyed by their peers with family or alumni legacies in the profession.
This year, 26 1L students from the law schools at Rutgers (both Newark and Camden), Seton Hall, and St. John’s universities signed up for the “First Generation” program. Since February, they have participated in workshops dedicated to resume writing and best practices for job interviews, and have worked closely with practicing lawyers, some of whom were once in the students’ shoes themselves.
The program focuses on one-on-one instruction and individualized feedback; students are divided into small groups to encourage them to engage in robust discussions with Lowenstein partners, counsel, and associates from a range of practice areas. These meetings are held on Zoom, except the final gathering that will be held in person, allowing all participants to meet face to face and put their new networking skills into play.
Broadening the Scope of Inclusivity
Counsel Craig Dashiell was instrumental in establishing the original 1L outreach program, “Diversity Institute,” which focused primarily on students of color. When he asked Yelky Perez of the firm’s Corporate practice to take over the program’s leadership, she realized that they could offer even more benefits if they broadened the scope to any first generation student who felt they could use the extra support. “Diversity includes people from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds,” says Yelky, “We didn’t want to leave anyone behind.”
Born in the Dominican Republic, Yelky is the first person in her family to reach many milestones, including becoming a high school, college, and law school graduate; and now a lawyer. While studying law at Rutgers, Yelky was selected to participate in Lowenstein’s highly competitive 1L LCLD’s Scholars Program, which gives valuable professional experience to diverse first-year law students; she also founded the Beyond the Books Initiative, a nonprofit that provides scholarships to offset the cost of legal textbooks to students in need.
Yelky is grateful to the many people that extended a hand to help her while she was forging her path; she is passionate about paying it forward and helping others in similar positions. This commitment to giving back has profoundly influenced her career. “In choosing where to practice,” Yelky says, “I cared deeply about working at a firm that embraced these same ideals. I’ve found that here at Lowenstein Sandler.”
Associate Jennifer A. Monge actually participated in Lowenstein’s program in its earlier iteration as “Diversity Institute” while she was studying at Rutgers Law; now she finds herself on the other side of the virtual classroom, advising current students who hope to follow in her footsteps.
Jennifer notes the benefits of receiving resume and interview advice from lawyers who have themselves been through the process, and who have a different perspective than law school career counselors. She also emphasizes the value for students from backgrounds like her own of building a network. “Developing that network provides first-generation students with a sense of confidence, especially when the going gets tough,” she says. “They need people to turn to and who can show them that a career in the legal profession is manageable and achievable, who can reassure them that they too can succeed.”
Legacy of First Generation Lawyers
Both the firm’s founders and its current leadership have declared a commitment to creating a dynamic, interactive community of unique individuals who share insights, challenge limits, and work collaboratively to provide the best in legal services and help one another grow; Lowenstein’s core values include diversity as an integral component to offering exemplary counsel to clients.
Geena M. Caporale of the firm’s Corporate group has worked closely with Yelky and Jennifer on this year’s “Building Bridges” program. The daughter of Italian-American parents, Geena is proud to now be part of a program that is “broadly inclusive in offering its workshops to students like me.”
Some of Lowenstein’s most renowned partners came from backgrounds where they were the first attorneys in their families. Vice Chair of Lowenstein’s Tech Group, Anthony O. Pergola, was the first person in his family to go to college, as well as only the second graduate of his college to go on to receive a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Reynold Lambert, son of Cuban immigrants, is partner in the firm’s Business Litigation, Class Action Litigation groups, former Chair of the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey, and has been recognized by ROI-NJ as One of the Most Impactful People of Color in New Jersey.
“It benefits our clients, our culture, and our community to widen the net and consider applicants from the broadest possible range of backgrounds and experiences. By encouraging a culture of open doors and helping hands, we put our money where our mouth is in our commitment to a truly diverse and well-rounded legal team,” says Kerry A. Lunz, Director of Legal Talent Acquisition.
Commitment to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Other Lowenstein initiatives devoted to increasing access and diversity include the LS Scholars Program, which offers paid summer associate positions and scholarships to promising, diverse first-year law students, and the 1L LCLD’s Scholars Program, offered through the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD), which provides diverse 1Ls with valuable professional experiences, while introducing them to the value of relationships and network-building.
Lowenstein was recently named one of the Best Law Firms for Diversity and Best Law Firms to Work for in the Vault’s 2022 law firm rankings, as well as in the subcategories of Diversity for Women, Racial & Ethnic Diversity, and Diversity for Individuals with Disabilities. In 2021, the firm received the LCLD Compass Award for the third year in a row for its steadfast commitment to building more diverse organizations and a more inclusive legal profession. The firm was also named to Bloomberg Law’s inaugural Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Framework, which recognizes firms for their level of disclosure of diversity-related metrics and distinguished performance against six core pillars: demographics, leadership and talent pipeline, recruitment and retention, business innovation and strategy, marketing, and diversity and inclusion in the community.
Due to the positive reaction to the “Building Bridges” program from both law students and lawyers, Lowenstein plans to offer the program again next year to an even wide range of schools, including those beyond the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area.
For more information on the Lowenstein Sandler Institute for Inclusion in the Law, please contact Kerry A. Lunz.