Four percent is a very small portion of a whole. And it’s unfortunately a percentage that people concerned about diversity and inclusion in the legal profession know well because it represents the percentage of Hispanic attorneys in the United States. This indicates the legal profession is not keeping pace with the diversity of this country, as Hispanic people represent more than 17 percent of the U.S. population.
How do we make progress on increasing the representation of Hispanic lawyers in the profession? There are many paths, but one that Microsoft has invested in, with positive results, is to help support law students who are trying to make their way into law careers. Now that Hispanic Heritage Month has begun, we wanted to share more about our work in this important area.
Five years ago we decided to take a step in this effort by creating a partnership with the Hispanic National Bar Association. We launched the HNBA/Microsoft Intellectual Property Law Institute (the “IPLI”), an intense, immersive intellectual property law program that we hold each summer for a select group of 25 Hispanic law students. The initial goals of the program were to educate participants on fundamentals of IP law and make them aware of opportunities for jobs (today only 1.8 percent of the lawyers practicing IP law are Hispanic). We also realized that education and awareness needed to be paired with a support system to sustain any gains the program made, so we also made the decision to provide networking opportunities — not only with other law students, but also with partners in law firms, in-house counsel and government leaders.
These students are selected through a highly competitive process. The IPLI takes students from around the country who represent a rich set of skills and experiences. Many of them have faced hardships in their lives and have shown grit and determination in overcoming these obstacles, and we’re honored to work with them.
In these first five years, we’ve seen how the combination of an intense educational experience and mentoring has opened doors for students that they did not know even existed for them. Many of them are the first ones in their families and communities to attend college, let alone law school.
Aside from the personal stories, we see proof of success in the numbers. Seventy-five percent of the alums from our program who have graduated from law school are practicing in a field related to IP or technology law. The law firms that have hired our students report back that the IPLI alumni are doing very well and in many cases, are stars in their firms. In addition to their intelligence and capability, they bring so many additional intangibles that add value to their firm, their work and their clients – the ability to speak another language, and the ability to move fluidly across cultures and bring a different perspective to their work. Even though we are working with relatively small numbers, we estimate that IPLI program has been directly responsible for increasing the number of Hispanic female lawyers in IP law by about 10 percent.*
We’re proud to work alongside a number of outstanding law firms that send their lawyers every year to mentor the IPLI students. These lawyers help students with their writing, interviewing and presentation skills, and make themselves available throughout the students’ law school careers to answer questions and provide any help they can.
We thank and commend the 2017 Fellow Firms: Ballard Spahr, David Wright Tremaine, Ferraiuoli LLC, Finnegan, Fish & Richardson, Merchant & Gould, Perkins Coie, Shook Hardy & Bacon, Sidley Austin and Workman Nydegger.
There’s a lot more work to do to improve the representation of Hispanic people in the legal profession. We hope to be joined by these firms, and new firms, in supporting the IPLI in coming years, and encourage other corporate departments and law firms to make meaningful commitments and tangible investments in improving the diversity of the legal profession.
*The Super Minority: The Status of Latinas in the Legal Profession, Submission by the HNBA Latina Commission to the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession, by Professor Dolores Atencio, reported approximately 13,000 Latina lawyers in the U.S. in 2008 based on a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a number that had not meaningfully increased by 2013 when this paper was published. “Latinas constitute 7% of the total U.S. population but only 1.3% of the nation’s employed lawyers. They have the lowest representation of any racial or ethnic group in the legal profession as compared to their overall presence in the nation.” Id, at 9.