When Larry Cobb, a St. Paul Companies attorney, took a look at the staff attorney program one day in 1993, he realized that it was lacking something—diversity.
The staff attorney program is made up of 224 attorneys, 51 paralegals and 163 administrative staff members in 27 states around the country. The attorneys handle civil defense litigation on behalf of The St. Paul. Cobb realized minority attorneys were not getting experience in civil defense work, so there were few minority applicants for open positions at the company.
Determined to add diversity to the program, Cobb co-founded The St. Paul's Minority Internship Staff Attorney Program seven years ago. "When we saw a lack of qualified candidates in the marketplace, we decided to grow our own," said Cobb. "We have been able to hire people that we know are qualified and who add diversity to our program."
Since the program's inception, attorneys at staff offices have actively recruited minority law students for internships. The goal is to groom interns for full-time positions at The St. Paul. To date, the program has been a tremendous success. Currently, minorities now make up 15 percent of the attorneys in the program. During the past seven years, 20 percent of the attorneys hired for the staff attorney program have been minorities.
Last year, The St. Paul staff attorney program received national recognition. The American Corporate Counsel Association honored The St. Paul with its 1999 Diversity Award. "We were quite impressed with the fact that The St. Paul's staff attorney program was instituted by company attorneys who saw a need and decided this initiative would benefit the entire organization," said Louis Maggiotto, chairman of the American Corporate Counsel Association. "The recruitment and hiring of minorities within the staff attorney program is really an extension of The St. Paul's commitment to diversity in the workplace," adds Mike Conroy, executive vice president and chief administrative officer, The St. Paul.
The Business Case
Though The St. Paul is committed to promoting diversity in the workplace, there is a business consideration behind the establishment of the minority internship program. There is a direct benefit to The St. Paul and its policyholders in a variety of ways, including outstanding trial and resolution results on a cost-effective basis.
In addition, the program has brought the company together with qualified minority applicants. As a result, some candidates have been hired for full-time jobs and others have been introduced to and have maintained a relationship with The St. Paul. "I have clients who are glad I'm here because they feel more comfortable dealing with another minority," said Carmela Salazar, who interned with The St. Paul in 1995 and is now a member of the staff attorney program in Brea, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles. Many of Salazar's clients are minority business owners. "I've gotten a lot of referrals because I'm easy to relate to, and that has been good for the company."
Salazar said that the company invests a lot of time and resources in its interns because the payoff is a potential hire. By training her as an intern, Salazar said the company saved money because it didn't have to retrain her at attorney wages when she became a full-time employee.
The program has also bolstered the company's reputation. "We were able to acquire a positive, high profile image with the law schools in the area," said Dwight Valentine, a staff attorney who oversees the minority internship program in The St. Paul's Boston office. "The schools recognize that The St. Paul trains its interns as potential attorneys."
A Case In Point
Briana Harris began facing the challenge of finding a job during her senior year at Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law in January 1998. The economy was improving, but internships and jobs for minority students were still hard to find. "If you didn't know the right people or have some sort of connection, it was difficult to find something," Harris said. "There are few minorities in the legal profession. A lot of times, I would go into interviews and never see anyone that looked like me. It was a little disconcerting. Any person feels more at ease when you see people that look like you."
Through a partnership that Catholic University had established with the Fairfax County Bar Association in Virginia, Harris landed an interview with The St. Paul for its minority internship program. "I was very impressed with the interview process," said Harris. "They made me feel very comfortable."
During the interview, Harris said The St. Paul's attorneys stressed the importance of diversity. "You hear a lot of organizations talk about diversity, but a lot of them don't practice what they preach." In Harris' case, The St. Paul's attorneys discussed growth opportunities at the company.
After completing her internship, Harris was offered a position as a paralegal at The St. Paul's Towson, Md. staff attorney office. Today, she is an associate staff attorney in that office. "While we're making progress, minorities are still under-represented in the legal profession," Harris said. "That's why we need to grow and foster minority development."
The St. Paul remains devoted to adding diversity to its ranks through the internship program. "We recognize the wonderful opportunity that exists to cultivate people who have talent, but may need an extra boost. This is a way for The St. Paul to benefit from bringing people on board who otherwise might not have come our way," said Cobb.
For more information about the St. Paul's minority internship staff attorney program, contact Larry Cobb at 404-320-7894.
From the September 2000 issue of Diversity & The Bar®