Isaac Johnson doesn’t attend an ivy-covered law school on the East Coast. And, he doesn’t let that bother him. The third-year student at the historically black Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law “competed headto- head with people from Harvard, Yale, NYU and Berkeley for positions, and succeeded,” Johnson says with palpable pride.
The Houston Bar Association’s Opportunities for Minorities in the Legal Profession summer internship program has helped launch the careers of a number of minority law students like Johnson. Ironically, it can no longer mention race when it recruits.
“The Hopwood decision has made everyone a little nervous,” concedes Pauline E. Higgins, vice president and associate general counsel at JPMorgan Chase, who serves on the bar association subcommittee that administers the internships.
In 1996, the United States Court of Appeals ruled in its Hopwood v. Texas decision that public universities could not use race as a criterion for acceptance.
To ensure minority candidates’ participation, the subcommittee arranges a reception to actually meet the applicants. “We interview a lot of students, but I want to select those who will get the maximum benefit now and in the future,” Higgins says.
The program was founded in 1997, and JPMorgan Chase became involved immediately. Higgins and Jan Grote, a colleague and tireless promoter of diversity, have mentored five students (of the total 14 participants annually) in the ABCs of the law from corporate finance to trusts and securities.
Many of the students—who attend the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, the University of Houston, and South Texas College of Law—have had minimal exposure to corporate culture.
Johnson has returned every summer and during the school year since his first year of law school. He spent half of his time last summer at the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, DC, where he worked on one of the biggest bank mergers in history. This is in conformity with Higgins’ belief that it takes time to groom a good intern into a great lawyer. Because of the internship, his hard work, and his mentors’ networking, after graduation Johnson will start working at Thompson & Knight, LLP, a Houston law firm.
The first JPMorgan Chase intern in the program, Dexter Sutton, a Thurgood Marshall alumnus, landed a job at the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, DC in July 2000.
“Our general counsel in Houston, Jeffrey B. Reitman, has been, and remains, very supportive of all of our diversity efforts,” Higgins explains. “That internal support puts pressure indirectly on the law firms with whom we do business, and it encourages them to step up to the plate. It sends the message that if I am going to give you business, I expect that you will have a diverse team.”
For more about JPMorgan Chase’s diversity efforts, please go to www.jpmorgan.com. JPMorgan Chase’s Texas Region was selected by MCCA as a 2001 “Employer of Choice.”
Hope E. Ferguson is a freelance writer and reporter who works in public relations for the State University of New York.
From the December 2001 issue of Diversity & The Bar®