Deputy General Counsel
How does a law department ensure it has a talent pipeline that is adequate to meet its future needs for outstanding lawyers? The Law Department at Bristol-Myers Squibb is planning ahead by sponsoring an intern program for high-potential minority law students.
In 1999, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund approached Bristol-Myers Squibb’s office of Culture and Diversity to determine whether the company would sponsor a summer intern program for Latino law students. The internship program is an outgrowth of PRLDEF’s educational arm, that assists Latino students by providing scholarships and academic assistance.
The idea was discussed with Linda Willett, Deputy General Counsel, and the program was immediately implemented because of the benefits it would bring to Bristol-Myers Squibb in expanding its relationships in the Latino legal community. According to Willett, “One of our key corporate goals is to develop effective leaders for the future. We saw a great opportunity in this program to develop a broader network of outstanding people passing through various stages of the talent career pipeline who might one day become major contributors to the Company.”
Recruiting for the 1999 summer program did not occur until late spring. As a result, the pilot program involved one intern and occurred over a much shorter time period than initially contemplated. The intern, Sonia Arias, who was a student at Boston College Law School, worked primarily with the Litigation Group during the summer. She received a salary plus a scholarship upon completing the internship. Two in-house attorneys, Regina Cavaliere and Diane Rooney, both Assistant Counsel in the Litigation Group, served as Sonia’s mentors.
During her five-week internship, Sonia was integrated into day-to-day efforts, handling both special projects and assisting with pending cases. Sonia also had an opportunity to work on a one-day project in the US Medicines Group that involved client contact. One goal of the program was to provide an experience that allowed Sonia to develop a broader sense of the many roles assumed by in-house attorneys. According to Diane Rooney, “We wanted to provide a realistic and meaningful perspective on in-house practice and that is a hard task to accomplish in five weeks.”
The experience was so positive for both the intern and for the Law Department that Linda Willett decided to expand the program for 2000. She appointed an oversight committee of eight members that managed logistical issues and handled the recruiting and interviewing of candidates.
As in 1999, the initial screening of resumes for the second year of the program was undertaken by PRLDEF. More than 250 applicants contacted PRLDEF after seeing the 2000 Summer Internship Program brochure distributed in late 1999. Juan Figueroa, the PRLDEF liaison with Bristol-Myers, provided resumes of ten highly qualified candidates. All ten were interviewed by members of the Law Department’s Diversity Committee.
Four New York area interns were selected for this year’s program. Each intern received $8,000 for the ten-week program. The three students who commuted to the Bristol-Myers Squibb facilities in New Jersey received a $1,500 stipend to cover commuting costs.
A key strength of the Bristol-Myers approach is providing the interns with “real-world” experiences, not peripheral special projects. According to Ray Keane, Associate Counsel, US Pharmaceutical Group and Chair of the Law Department’s Diversity Committee, “During this past summer, among other assignments, the interns participated in a national oncology/immunology sales meeting, assisted in the preparation of a patent filing with the patent office, engaged in direct contact and contract negotiation (in Spanish) with clients at our Latin American subsidiaries and prepared and submitted legal briefs and position papers to the EEOC.”
The four interns were fully integrated in the day-to-day workings of each respective department and received assignments involving issues currently affecting Bristol-Myers Squibb. Juan Concepcion, a student at Boston University School of Law, split his time between the Labor and Employment and Litigation groups. Jorge Torres, a student at University of Pennsylvania Law School, divided his time between the Patent Litigation and Licensing groups. Elizabeth Valentin, City University of New York (CUNY) Law School, worked with the US Medicines group. Maria Valentin, Pace University Law School, spent her time with the International Law group.
“Each of the interns admitted that at the time they interviewed,” says Ray Keane, “they did not know what to expect from working in a corporate environment. There was an initial, general concern that their work and their views would be lost in a major corporation. However, based on comments offered at the end of the program, a common theme surfaced. Each of the interns felt that their participation in assignments over the summer had a positive and noticeable impact on the business. The enthusiasm expressed by the interns has reinforced our commitment to continue and enhance the program.”
As the Bristol-Myers program confirms, such intern programs also provide significant benefits for the in-house legal team. In addition to the extra help provided by the interns on company legal issues, the program has broadened the understanding of internal lawyers. “The BMS Intern program provides learning benefits for in-house counsel as well for the interns,” according to John Bonomi, Counsel, Labor and Employment Group. “For example, Juan Concepcion learned a great deal working with the Labor and Employment Group, but the lawyers within our group also learned from Juan. From Juan, we got a fresh perspective on the work that we do.”
“Juan told us that he came into the internship with certain preconceptions about how large companies’ work,” continues Bonomi. “I believe we demonstrated to Juan that we truly care not only about advocating the company’s position, but also about engaging in organizational justice. Juan went about his job with a healthy skepticism, but ultimately Juan and the lawyers in our group all ended up on the same page as to the right action for the company and simply the right action.”
Intern Concepcion agrees. “I have seen much evidence during my time here that Bristol-Myers is doing its part to promote diversity and inclusiveness,” he says. “This innovative fellowship program is one example of the company’s efforts better to reflect our human diversity.”
“A wonderful benefit of internship programs like the BMS program,” according to Zenola Harper, Counsel, Bristol-Myers Litigation Group, “is that these programs expose soon-to-be lawyers to what a corporation needs from its outside counsel. Some of our interns will likely work for law firms upon graduating from law school. Often, as a new associate, a young attorney may not have any idea about how a corporate law department works, and how he or she might best provide legal services to assist the client. Having worked as an intern in the corporate law department, these young attorneys will have a ‘leg up’ on some of their peers.”
Sonia Arias, 1999 Summer Intern, agrees. “I wasn’t sure if I was cut out to do corporate work and that was a big issue for me in terms of my own self confidence and I think when I interviewed [for an associate position with a law firm in London], having had this experience and knowing that I was able to handle that type of work just kind of made me feel a lot more confident.”
According to Linda Willett, “Our ultimate goal is to introduce law students of color to career opportunities in the corporate legal setting, especially since we do not hire students directly out of law school. It is our hope that the students take away a unique perspective on in-house practice that will aid them in their respective legal careers and perhaps lead to them to consider in-house opportunities as a future option.”
The Diversity Committee will continue to manage the internship program in 2001. Its current objective is to have at least four interns and possibly six. Bristol-Myers will be partnering with additional minority groups to expand recruitment efforts. In addition to working with PRLDEF, the Law Department has approached the Asian Legal Defense and Education Fund (ALDEF) and the NAACP for assistance.
The Committee is also looking for ways to provide opportunities for the interns to increase client exposure and may try to involve outside counsel in the summer program. Another goal is to promote communication among the interns throughout the summer to allow them to share their varied experiences.
“The internship program has enriched our networking and recruiting capabilities,” says Linda Willett. “We consider the program to be a continuing process. From it, the Company gains ambassadors who will share their positive experiences with other students and lawyers. This, we hope, will increase the interests of additional minority candidates in opportunities available at Bristol-Myers Squibb.”
What advice does Willett have for other companies? “Based on our experiences,” she reports, “planning for the program should begin in the spring prior to the fall interview season in which a company plans to recruit. In essence, planning would begin almost a year prior to commencement of the program. Begin recruiting through one group to keep the first year simple. Plan to partner with other groups to help expand your outreach.” She continues, “We hope the success of our partnership will assist PRLDEF in recruiting other companies to sponsor similar programs involving placement and mentoring of Latino law students.”
Stephen E. Nowlan is a former member of the Board of Directors of MCCA.
From the November 2000 issue of Diversity & The Bar®