IP Foundation Scholarship recipients (front row left to right) Autondria Minor; Deidra Ritcherson; Alexis Hart (backing them, left to right) Anthony Greene, President, IP Foundation; Sidney B. Williams; Roger Parkhurst, President, American Intellectual Property Law Association; and Baila Celedonia, First Vice President, IP Foundation.
Minorities make up the fastest growing segment of the college-aged population, yet represent a shockingly low percentage of graduate and professional school students. For example, while Hispanics and African-Americans are 31.6 percent of the total college-aged population, they represent only 7.2 percent and 9 percent of professional and graduate students, respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Census Bureau. Minorities are particularly scarce in medical and business schools, engineering and science programs, and, of course, law.
Court decisions that ban the use of race as a factor in admissions and university scholarship programs further exacerbate the issue of minorities in graduate school. Even universities in states without bans on affirmative action fear that using race-based programs of any sort will lead to being slapped with lawsuits, or worse – losing their federal funding.
Those students fortunate enough to get beyond monetary and admissions barriers and into law school must then face inadequate exposure to the varying fields of law, and they often have a narrow window to select an area to focus within, which is due to a lack of exposure to fields with poor diversity track records. The higher presence of minority lawyers in civil rights and public interest work, for example, corresponds to the very real likelihood that minority students will not receive exposure to, say, trademark or patent law, which have significantly fewer African-American, Asian, and Hispanic attorneys than the former fields. Add a lack of mentorship to this mix, and the barriers to law school can seem almost as daunting as the law itself.
IP Foundation Scholarship recipients (left to right) Michael Sew Hoy, Tara Elliot, and Rolando Medina.
A combined lack of funds, guidance, and opportunities can cause law school to seem like a pipe dream for minorities. Without incentives to interest minority students in the vocation, scholarships to fund law school, mentors to open eyes to the various areas within the field, and internship and employment opportunities-all of which various scholarship programs normally offer – ethnic diversity among law students stagnates. Without an able-bodied student pool to recruit from, diversity within the profession languishes. And without diversity in the profession, the ability to fully meet the needs of an increasingly diverse world will become increasingly rare.
To fill the void left by dwindling university scholarships and programs, bar associations, law firms, and corporations nationwide are stepping forward with scholarships, training programs, mentoring efforts, internships, and employment opportunities. All contain the singular goal of increasing diversity in the legal profession.
One such effort is the American Intellectual Property Law Education Foundation (AIPLEF or IP Foundation), which recently started nine minority law students on the path to a career in IP law. Each award recipient in 2002 received a $10,000 renewable scholarship, a mentoring program to assist that individual during the academic year, summer employment directly related to the practice of IP law in either a corporate or private law department, and help in finding employment after graduation.
American Intellectual Property Law Education Foundation
The Sydney B. Williams, Jr. Scholarship Program is named for the first African-American IP attorney to chair a committee of the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA), to serve on the AIPLA Board of Directors, and to serve as a council member and financial officer of the American Bar Association-Section of IP Law. Mr. Williams was also one of the proposal writers for the IP Foundation.
The program's comprehensiveness owes itself to years of research and inter-committee deliberations on ways to increase the number of minority IP lawyers. "The issue is multifold," says Anthony Greene, president of AIPLEF. "Minority and women law students have to first worry about getting into law school, then getting jobs after graduation, and then avoiding the glass ceilings once they are practicing. We knew that without full support, the program would fail."
From Thought to Reality
The 'brain-child' for the IP Foundation was first conceived as a proposal in committee meetings held by AIPLA.
Sydney B. Williams, Jr., Clyde Bailey, Mel Garner, and Phil Hampton, each of whom garnered recognition and historical 'firsts' as African-Americans at the top of IP law, helped fellow AIPLA Diversity in IP Law Committee members structure a proposal for the founding program. This proposal resulted in the AIPLA Foundation, a separate entity to carry the proposal forward and make it a reality. Quickly recognizing that a program of this magnitude needed the help of other major organizations, the foundation paired with the American Bar Association's Section of IP Law (ABAIPL) and MCCA®. Along with its 20,000 membership base and major contacts, the ABA boasted a long history of joint minority scholarships with schools nationwide and extensive study in the area of diversity and IP law. MCCA offered infrastructure, vast contacts, and a wealth of knowledge in diversity.
Rather than offering scholarship money alone, foundation members borrowed from the Lawyers for One America's report, "Bar None."
"We wanted to find information about how different bars and people in the field targeted the diversity issue," explains Greene. "We applied the best practices from this report [which pooled real-life data from bars and organizations nationwide] to focus a program specifically suited for IP law."
Using its extensive networks, the foundation solicited support from within bar associations, law firms, corporations and legal publications. Members garnered individual commitments from $10,000 to $100,000 and committed dollars for successive years (for example, $10,000 for the next five years). The American Corporation Counsel Association also joined the effort and made a contribution.
Once the structure was set and money was secured, the AIPLEF joined with the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Foundation (TMSF) to administer the program. Collectively, they issued applications to deans of law schools nationwide, IP law professors, Asian, African-American, and Hispanic campus organizations (for example, the National Black Law Student Association), and minority organizations focused on engineering, math, and science majors. The TMSF additionally ensured that applications were distributed extensively throughout the TMSF schools (Howard University, North Carolina Central University, Southern University and Texas Southern University), which have graduated close to 30 percent of the minority engineers in the nation.
The goal was to attract students whose grades were top- notch, who were in need of financial aid, who were well- rounded students, and most importantly, who displayed a likeliness to stay and practice in the field of IP law. "We didn't expect the amount of applications we received, and the number of students who were highly qualified for the scholarship. We planned to award only three scholarships in our first year," says Greene. In the first round of applications alone, the AIPLEF received 95 applications "…at least 20 were applicants that we expect can make a significant contribution to IP law," said Greene.
Upon notification of the exceptional applicant pool, the foundation's sponsoring organizations donated additional funds. In total, the program raised enough money to award nine scholarships, thereby guaranteeing an immediate and significant manifestation of their efforts.
The pathway to diversity is a long, interconnected trip with many barriers. Thus scholarships are one way that the legal community can help students plan for and successfully traverse those barriers.
Alea J. Mitchell worked for MCCA as a summer intern upon her graduation from Wesleyan. She is now employed at D'Arcy Advertising in New York City and is the Features Editor for Diversity & the Bar® magazine.
From the January/February 2003 issue of Diversity & The Bar®