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    Paying It Forward: The State Bar Diversity Clerkship Program

    Thirteen employers and law students were recognized July 20 as participants in the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Diversity Clerkship Program. The program offers employers and students a unique opportunity to share experiences and to promote diversity in the legal profession.

    Shannon Green

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    July 26, 2016 – It is all about giving law students an opportunity to work with other lawyers, to gain experience and contacts that will help them succeed as lawyers.

    Clerk and Employer - Madison City Attorney's Office

    2016 law clerk Sheila Thobani with Michael May of the Madison City Attorney's Office.

    To help them do that – the State Bar of Wisconsin Diversity Clerkship Program gives law students their first steps toward a successful career in law.

    The 10-week program matches employers with first-year law students to provide the best law clerk for the employer’s needs and the best legal working experience for the clerk.

    The program, now in its 24th year, “has been the crown jewel of the State Bar for many years,” said Andrew Chevrez, chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee’s Law Student Outreach Subcommittee, which oversees the program.

    Founded in 1993, more than 425 clerks have gone through the program with 60 companies, firms, and state agencies participating as employers.

    org sgreen wisbar Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by org sgreen wisbar email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.

    Thirteen employers participated in the program in 2016. “We are incredibly grateful to the employers for that support,” said Lindsey Draper, who hosted the reception July 20, and is a member of the State Bar’s Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee.

    There is no State Bar program any more important than giving opportunities to law students and young lawyers to become part of the profession, Draper said, “to see what the profession is, and to learn from people who give the profession the good name that it has in Wisconsin.”

    An Amazing Reciprocity between Student and Employer

    The Law Offices of Thomas P. Stilp is the recipient of the 2016 Leader in Diversity Employer Award. This year marks the firm’s 20th year as an employer in the program.  

    Leadership in Diversity Award goes to Law Offices of Thomas P. Stilp

    Joshua Czuta, staff attorney for the Law Offices of Thomas P. Stilp, poses with the Leader in Diversity Employer Award. The firm is recognized for 20 years of participation in the Diversity Clerkship program.

    Thomas Stilp said he remembers the clerks for the two decades his office has participated in the program. “The quality of students we were assigned over the years has been remarkable. I have seen their careers blossom, and it is gratifying to know that their first legal experience was in our office,” he said. “Our reason for participation is driven by how we are able to impact the careers of these young, diverse students as they begin their legal careers.

    Law clerks participating in the program say that working for The Law Offices of Thomas P. Stilp was a rewarding and educational experience. For Joseph Trevino, a summer law clerk in 2010, it was a good first taste of what it is like to work as a lawyer.

    “This wasn’t a clerkship where you would sit and review medical records,” Trevino said. “I was drafting summary judgment motions, attending depositions, and doing ‘lawyer’ work.  I can’t imagine having a better first legal job.”

    Mark James O'Neil Jr., a 2014 participant, says he “could not have been luckier to have such a tremendous experience. I was given real projects with real responsibility that taught me what it means to be an attorney.”

    Speaking on behalf of Thomas Stilp, staff attorney Joshua Czuta said that participation as an employer is well worth it. “What we get out of it, I can’t even quantify. It is 20 years of an amazing reciprocity of experiences. We would not be who we are, with the success we’ve had, without this program.”

    2016 Diversity Clerkship Employers

    The State Bar thanks the 13 employers who participated in the Diversity Clerkship Program in 2016:

    • American Family Mutual Insurance Co. -- 22 years
    • Boardman & Clark, LLP -- 24 years
    • Clean Wisconsin -- new in 2016
    • CUNA Mutual Group -- 10 years
    • Law Office of Odalo J. Ohiku -- 2 years
    • Law Offices of Thomas P. Stilp -- 20 years
    • Madison City Attorney Office -- 12 years
    • Northwestern Mutual Insurance Company -- 24 years
    • Rockwell Automation Inc. -- 2 years
    • S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. -- 2 years
    • Stafford Rosenbaum, LLP -- 16 years
    • Thrivent Financial for Lutherans -- new in 2016
    • Wisconsin Department of Corrections -- 13 years

    Special thanks to American Family Mutual Insurance Co. and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., who continue to provide facilities for the Diversity Clerkship employer-student interviews each year.

    A Successful Law Career Begins Here

    Such beginnings do indeed lead to success, says Marcia Drame, assistant general counsel with Northwestern Mutual, Milwaukee.

    Drame told her story as the featured speaker at a reception for employers and students in the program on July 20. Twenty years ago, she was a 1L and a clerk in the Diversity Clerkship Program.

    Marcia Drame

    Marcia Drame of Northwestern Mutual Insuance Co. points to her name on the list of all law clerks who participated in the program - more than 420 since its inception in 1993.

    “I was super excited and really thankful to participate in the program,” Drame said. She was matched with Boardman & Clark, known then as Boardman, Suhr, Curry & Field LLP. Her experience that summer was “outstanding.”

    “I did real work. I researched legal issues, wrote memoranda, and did first drafts of briefs,” she said. She experienced different areas of the law, networked with attorneys in the office, and attended client meetings where she began to learn “the true counseling aspect of what lawyers do.” She got the chance to see and experience working in a law office, learning law firm culture.

    Drame continued to work part-time for the firm during her second year of law school. “So, by the time I got through my second summer, I had over a year of actual work experience with legal research and writing.”

    That experience opened doors for her, leading to a summer internship with Quarles & Brady in Milwaukee. She was offered a permanent position with the firm upon graduation, and worked there until 2004, when she accepted a position with Northwestern Mutual.

    One opportunity prepares you for the next one – and helps you to build your career, she said. Her participation in the Diversity Clerkship Program was the first stepping stone in her career.

    With the philosophy to pay it forward and serve the community, she also volunteers her time in bar associations – having served in leadership roles in the State Bar of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Bar Association, and the American Bar Association.

    Her advice to today’s law students: Challenge and stretch yourself, keep achieving, be optimistic, and give people the benefit of the doubt.

    “Learn to be a great lawyer – realize that a law degree is a powerful tool, and use that power for good. Find ways to pay it forward and give back to the community,” Drame said.

    CleanWisconsin employer and clerk

    Celebrating a summer of working together are, from left, Katie Nekola of Clean Wisconsin, with law clerk Katherine Klein.

    Brick by Brick

    The program is a vision of the future, says State Bar President Fran Deisinger. It brings together people of diverse backgrounds, building opportunity and mutual experience within the legal profession.

    It marks a path toward fixing social structures – albeit brick by brick – that divide people. “That’s how this is going to work,” Deisinger said.

    More Employers Sought as Participants

    The participation rate for the employers varies each year; in the past it has been as high as 27, said Chevrez, who encourages more employers to look into participating in the program.

    Employers interested in participating in the 2017 Diversity Clerkship Program should contact Megan Zurbriggen org mzurbriggen wisbar via email or at (608) 650-6083, or (800) 444-9404 ext. 6083. Employers may join the 2017 program through Jan. 11, 2017.