Sodexho, a Maryland-based food and facilities management company boasting more than 100,000 employees and approximately 20 attorneys, expanded its summer law clerk program this year by assigning one of its clerks to a two-week stint at one of its outside law firms, the D.C. office of Richmond, Virginia-based Hunton & Williams, LLP, which has more than 850 attorneys in 17 offices worldwide.
Exposing its summer clerks to several areas of law is important to Sodexho and Hunton & Williams was eager to help make it happen. "Clerking provides an experience that law students otherwise would not get," Todd Brown, a partner in Hunton & Williams and chair of the firm's Diversity Activities Committee, notes. "Law school is heavily immersed in theory, and law students don't do a lot of drafting. A summer clerkship gives them an experience that is kind of a snapshot of what they might be doing as a practicing new lawyer. It's important to get that experience throughout the summer, and also that's how you usually end up getting your offer for full-time employment. It is a very valuable experience in many respects."
"It's helpful for students, especially law clerks, to get specific exposure to two worlds, in-house and firm," says Brenda Fuller, Sodexho's assistant general counsel and chair of the law department's Diversity Committee, who suggested the plan.
"The experience is different as are the expectations, the demands, and the ability to achieve work balance. Partnering is about fostering a better understanding of inhouse attorneys and the expectations of in-house attorneys with what happens in firms," says Fuller.
Sodexho invites second-year law students to spend the summer clerking for the company. "I learned about all aspects of Sodexho, and received valuable feedback on my work," says Lisa Thompson, a Sodexho intern who was assigned to work at Hunton & Williams. Thompson is entering her third year at American University Washington College of Law.
Sodexho also provides full-day job shadowing opportunities for first-year students. Additionally, "One of the three Sodexho summer clerks this year was WMACCA/ MCCA® Corporate Scholar1 Michelle Lee," says Fuller. "We're happy to have a summer student come through Sodexho. It would be really rewarding for someone to go through the program, get law firm experience, and then come to our company," enthuses Fuller. "That would distinguish them from other candidates. It's an investment in the long run," she continues.
Diversity is a top priority for Sodexho's law department. "Sodexho has achieved a culture that respects balanced home life," Fuller emphasizes. "They were trailblazers in alternative job sharing arrangements. Some lawyers have been able to work part time on alternative work schedules."
"Sodexho takes the lead to encourage diversity within the law firms with whom we do business," Fuller continues. "We ask how many are diversely staffed and for corresponding dollar amounts. We reward firms that provide diversity. Hunton & Williams is receptive and understanding about the diversity initiative their clients demand," she states.
Sodexho General Counsel Robert Stern fully supports and encourages the summer intern program with Hunton & Williams. "It gives them the big picture. It's great to have law students see legal career alternatives. I went through three years [in law school] before realizing that in-house was a good career choice for a lot of people," says Stern. "Hunton & Williams was a unique kind of arrangement, and was successful," Stern continues. "I'd encourage inhouse counsel to build relationships with law firms that may not be traditional but are consistent with each other's goals," he concludes.
Hunton & Williams Encourages Partnerships
Todd Brown of Hunton & Williams was instrumental in working with Fuller in structuring the special summer internship. The firm invited their client's general counsel, Robert Stern, and several in-house lawyers to a quarterly partners' meeting devoted to diversity. "They told us about the importance of diversity to their law departments and their corporations," says Brown.
Brenda Fuller was on one of the meeting's panels and followed up to discuss ways to partner with Hunton & Williams. "This summer's internship arrangement is an offshoot of that. It's part and parcel of what we are striving for with our clients," says Brown. "As part of the work of the Diversity Activities and Diversity Strategies Committees, we met and asked, ‘What's another way to demonstrate to partners and to our associates and clients that we are serious about diversity?'" Brown explains.
"I very much think the program was a success," says Kevin Fast, the hiring partner for Hunton & Williams who is based in Washington D.C. "We treated her [Lisa Thompson] the same way we treated the summer clerks. We assigned her a writing mentor, whose job is to help guide the clerks, who sometimes struggle with getting down on paper whatever analytical work they've done. She was given the same types of assignments as the other clerks; one was a business type, and one was a political and legal question," says Fast.
"I loved working with Sodexho and Hunton & Williams, and I am very lucky to have experienced the practice of law from the perspective of in-house counsel and that of a law firm," says Thompson. "Not only was I able to observe the difference in focus between the law firm and in-house counsel, but with the help of my writing mentor at Hunton & Williams and the attorneys at Sodexho, I was able to grow as an attorney."
"One of the differences I noticed between the work of a law firm and of in-house counsel is that while a law firm mainly serves the legal needs of external clients, inhouse counsel works with both internal and external clients. Working with such a diverse group of clients, a lawyer working in-house is often confronted with both legal and business issues. This means that not only must in-house counsel evaluate solutions to legal issues based on the best interests of the corporation but that they must also assist with business decisions," Thompson contends.
At this point, Thompson is still unsure of her ultimate career goals. "My interests have grown," she says. "When I came to law school I was interested in pursuing a career in government relations. Now I find all aspects of the law appealing—corporate law, international trade, public defense, contracts, finance," says Thompson.
Thompson's experience could be the start of something big. "We're interested in doing what makes sense to us in terms of where we can promote our diversity goals," says Fast. "I think Sodexho provided us a good opportunity. If the opportunity arose next year, we would definitely consider it," Fast concludes.
Kathleen Dreessen is a freelance writer based in Napa, California.
- The Corporate Scholars program was developed by the Washington Metropolitan Area Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (WMACCA) with financial support from a grant provided to WMACCA by MCCA®. For more information on the program, see the July/August 2004 issue of Diversity & the Bar®, and the May/June 2004 issue.
From the September/October 2004 issue of Diversity & The Bar®