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  • August 18, 2021

    Summer of Opportunity: Employers and First-year Law Students Find Success in Diversity Clerkship Program

    For the clerks of the 2021 State Bar of Wisconsin Diversity Clerkship Program, the summer offered opportunity and experience that will shape their legal careers while benefitting employers. Find out more about this year's program participants.

    Shannon Green

    Tarwinder Kang

    Marquette University Law School student Tarwinder Kang clerked for Boardman and Clark LLP in Madison. “The amount of mentorship experience I received was beyond anything I could have ever imagined,” he said.

    Aug. 18, 2021 – When he was 16, customers at his family’s Milwaukee convenience store would ask Talwinder Kang for help understanding their legal issues. The son of immigrants who arrived in the 1990s from India, customers sought out Kang because they knew he could read.

    “Many customers at the store were underrepresented minorities and people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Kang. “They repeatedly asked me to assist them in understanding lease agreements, court papers, divorce decrees, and police tickets,” he said.

    From that time, he was inspired to go into law. “This highlighted for me the lack of access certain members of the community have to lawyers and the court system,” Kang said.

    Jodi Chung spent the first six years of her life in a China orphanage, unable to walk due to congenital hip dysplasia, before she was adopted by Terry and Chih Chung, a New Berlin couple who were themselves immigrants from Taiwan.

    “Multiple families from the U.S. had looked into adopting me, however, all of them turned my application away” once they saw her medical issues, Chung said.

    But the Chungs spotted the young girl on a Chinese adoption website, and began the adoption process, arranging for surgeries that would change Jodi’s life. Jodi remembers riding on her soon-to-be father’s back as they took her sightseeing in China while awaiting surgeries to correct her dysplasia. Jodi immigrated to New Berlin on Christmas Day, 2002.

    “Who I am today stems solely out of the kind of love, indescribable with words, that my mom and dad showed me by giving me a family,” she said. “There are children out there who are not perfectly-abled and are in need of miracles like the ones I have experienced.”

    Her experience inspired her to choose law as a career – to be an advocate for children. “I want to help vulnerable populations like children, people with disabilities, and underserved clients. I want to help parents who are in the same position as my parents were in adopting me ‒ but not at a price in which they have to spend their life savings,” she said. “I hope to be the kind of life-changing advocate that my dad was with me.”

    Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Kevin A. Carr, right, and members of the DOC’s legal team pose with DCP clerk Jodi Chung

    The Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Kevin A. Carr (right) and members of the DOC’s legal team pose with DCP clerk Jodi Chung (center). Members of the legal team who worked with Chung over the summer include, Jad Itani, who participated in the clerkship program with the department as a 1L and is now with the department's Office of Legal Counsel (second from right); Matthew Foley, chief legal counsel (second from left); Glen Mercier, legal office manager (left).

    A Wealth of Experience, a New Opportunity

    Chung and Kang are two of 27 first-year Marquette University and U.W. law school students who recently completed the State Bar of Wisconsin’s summer Diversity Clerkship Program. The program matches first-year law students of diverse backgrounds with legal offices for a 10-week clerkship.

    Kang clerked for Boardman and Clark LLP in Madison. “The amount of mentorship experience I received was beyond anything I could have ever imagined while in my first year working at a law firm,” he said.

    Chung, a clerk for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Office of Legal Counsel, said she worked with an “amazing” group of people.

    “The diversity of projects I’ve been assigned and the groups of people I was able to work with are helping me determine what kind of attorney I want to be,” she said.

    The legal team was brilliant in how it “embodies diversity in a​ction.” Her experience has inspired her to explore additional areas of law, including administrative and agency law.

    Marquis Ward and Munifeh Jaber

    From left, Marquis Ward and Munifeh Jaber, Marquette law students who clerked with Molson-Coors in Milwaukee.​

    ​A Strong Year for the Program

    This year, 25 employers provided 27 Wisconsin law school students with summer internships – the most since the program began nearly 30 years ago.

    The program, now in its 29th year, has assisted more than 500 students gain experience working as a lawyer. It is led by Andrew Chevrez, outgoing chair of the State Bar Diversity & Inclusion Oversight Committee’s Law Student Outreach Subcommittee.

    The success of the program comes “despite the effects COVID has had on everyone’s life,” Chevrez said.

    “I am overjoyed that the program placed 27 clerks this year – a high-water mark since I have been involved,” Chevrez said. “Each year, I am amazed by the diversity and skills of our incoming clerks,” Chevrez said. “Their energy and passion is quite invigorating and contagious.”

    So many clerks could take part in the program thanks to employers who remain involved in the program over the years, along with three employers participating this year for the first time: Dean Health Plan, Kowalski Family Law, and Legal Action of Wisconsin. “We are grateful for their commitment to the professional development of our law clerks,” Chevrez said.

    It is also the result of the actions and hard work of the subcommittee and the State Bar, Chevrez said. “Thank you for your time and passion in the program,” he said.

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    Law clerk and Marquette law student ​Jada Davis, right, poses with Asia​​ Patterson, an attorney with Ohiku Law Office in Milwaukee, where Davis served as clerk. Davis said she enjoyed working directly with clients and drafted paperwork to file in clients’ cases. “I got feedback right away,” she said.

    The 2021 Champion of Diversity

    The Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) has participated in the Diversity Clerkship Program for 17 years.

    For their participation in the program since 2004, the department is the recipient of the Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee’s Champions of Diversity Award, which recognizes employers who have shown commitment to the Diversity Clerkship Program in both quality of experience for their clerks and duration of partnership in the program.

    “They are to be commended for their dedication to the mission of our program,” Chevrez said. “As a state agency with constant budgetary constraints, they have been stalwart in their commitment to our program.

    “The enduring fidelity of DOC as well as our other perennial partners signals to new employers and our 1L class students that the program is established and meaningful.”

    DOC Secretary Kevin Carr, accepting the award, said it is “an honor and a privilege to participate in the program. The clerks’ skills, professionalism, and commitment to excellence” are reasons the department continues to participate in the program.

    He said programs like the Diversity Clerkship Program are “both necessary and appreciated” and are very real steps forward for greater diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.

    Participation in the program has lasting effects for employers, in addition to providing benefits to the clerks, Carr said. “The clerks help organizations engage in proactive and creative conversations around diversity. And the program helps us to take part in something that truly benefits and embraces diversity and inclusion, instead of simply talking about it.”

    Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Kevin A. Carr, accepts the Champions of Diversity Award on behalf of the department

    The Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Kevin A. Carr, accepts the Champions of Diversity Award on behalf of the department during the celebration over Zoom in July. The department was recognized for its longstanding commitment to the Diversity Clerkship Program.

    A Virtual Celebration of Success and Learning

    The clerks and their employers were honored recently at a special virtual celebration in July (you can see the celebration on YouTube).

    “You are the future of the Bar,” said State Bar President Cheryl Furstace Daniels of the clerks. The clerkship program is a long-standing and ongoing piece of the State Bar’s goal to increase diversity and inclusion in the profession.

    Thanks to both the participating employers and the clerks, the Diversity Clerkship Program is “in great shape and is poised for continued success,” Chevrez said. “I hope that through everyone’s sustained loyalty and support that it will remain as one of the crown jewels of the State Bar with respect to diversity and inclusion.”

    “It’s about changing the landscape and offering options,” said Judge Carl Ashley, outgoing chair of the State Bar of Wisconsin Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee.

    U.W. law student Hazel Wang, right, clerked with CapSpecialty in Madison

    U.W. law student Hazel Wang, right, clerked with CapSpecialty in Madison. With her in the photo is her supervisor, Mary Haefer, ​​Chief Claims Officer-Property & Casualty​. Wang said she learned the importance and relevance of privacy laws in the insurance industry. In attending a virtual mediation for the first time, “I saw first-hand the interaction of attorneys on the plaintiff and defense sides.”

    An Unforgettable Summer

    At the celebration via Zoom, the law clerks and their employers spoke about their experiences and the benefits they received through the program. Here are a few stories of their stories.

    Patrick Cannon, deputy general counsel at RegalBeloit, which is now in third year in the program, said that participating is “something we view as critical, not only to the bar, but to RegalBeloit itself,” he said. “This program is an excellent opportunity for us, and we get just as much out of it as our clerk.”

    Their clerk, U.W. law student ​Kyle Cunningham, “embraced everything we threw his way” in working as in-house counsel, Cannon said, and they are thrilled that he will continue working for them following the end of his clerkship.

    Lissa Koop from Alliant Energy in Madison said they are glad to participate in the program. “We are grateful to the State Bar for putting this together,” she said.

    The program is one component that helps them relate to their customers. “We are a customer-service business, with customers of all backgrounds, and our company needs to reflect our customer base at all levels. As an employer, we have benefited a great deal from this,” she said.

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    Diversity clerk Stephany Hernandez talks about her experience as a summer clerk with Zendesk. She said that her experience with the company has inspired her to look into business and technology law.

    Their clerk, U.W. law student Tierney Gill said she enjoyed learning more about the utility industry. “I started knowing absolutely nothing about it,” Gill said. “It was amazing to learn more about the opportunities available to you as a lawyer.”

    DeWitt clerk and Marquette law student Nicholas McMichen said his favorite experience in the program was the opportunity to challenge himself with unique assignments spanning different practice areas. “Being able to conduct legal research for one attorney, co-write an article with another, and attend hearings and practical experiences has allowed me to better understand the actual practice of law,” he said.

    David Kowalski of Kowalski Family Law said his firm looks forward to employing another first-year clerk next year. The program, he said, “is not only a great idea, but also absolutely necessary, particularly in the area of family law.”

    “Success at work, like many things in life, is all about building positive relationships,” said Chris Smithka, senior corporate counsel at Zendesk, now in its second year participating in the program. Their clerk, Marquette law student Stephany Hernandez, excelled by meeting individually (and virtually) with each of the 25 members of Zendesk’s legal team.

    Hernandez said that her time at Zendesk has inspired her to look into business and technology law. This fall, she will take classes involving securities, corporate compliance, and copyright, courses she had not considered before. “That’s how this experience has changed me,” she said.

    Carmen Lopez, a Marquette law student, worked with attorneys at Fiserv Inc., shadowing them, and learning more about securities, labor and employment, and contracts. “They helped me realize just all the different ways you can use a law degree,” she said.

    Jennifer Diaz of Marquette clerked at Legal Action in Milwaukee. She admits she was nervous at the beginning, but that the attorneys and staff at Legal Action soon made her feel at home. “It made me more confident in my work,” Diaz said.

    Participants in the State Bar of Wisconsin Diversity Clerkship Program gather via Zoom to celebrate

    Participants in the State Bar of Wisconsin Diversity Clerkship Program gather via Zoom to celebrate the 10-week summer internship program. This year, 25 employers provided 27 Wisconsin law school students with summer internships – the most seen since the program began nearly 30 years ago.

    Kimberly Guitierrez of U.W. clerked with Rathje Woodward. “People really helped me feel that I can thrive, and supported me in trying new areas. I feel more than capable, thanks to this experience,” she said.

    U.W. law student Maria Pimentel Diaz worked at the Wisconsin Department of Justice. While they spent the summer entirely virtual, she was constantly in touch with attorneys in the department. “I learned so much about myself and what I want to do in the future because I learned about their jobs,” she said.

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

    Kendall Means, a Marquette law student, said that because of her clerkship experience, she now plans to explore more deeply a career in criminal law and victim rights advocacy. “I am excited to find my niche,” she said.

    Marquette law student Carolyn Carlson, clerking at Stafford Rosenbaum in Milwaukee, spent her time researching and writing in the areas of family and transactional law and workers' compensation. “I learned so much,” she said. But the best part was the support she received – including via knocks on the office door and invitations to lunch. Her mentors included not just attorneys but staff members as well. “It was so much more than I ever imagined,” she said.

    Since before law school, U.W. law student Noe Rincon, was interested in health law. As a clerk with Dean Health Plan, he was able to explore the work of in-house counsel, and also seeing grievance and appeals hearings. He learned about subrogation – “it was a field of law I had no idea existed” – and that mentorship is vital, since the law is “messy sometimes,” he said. “It is really great to learn just how many areas of law are out there.”

    About the State Bar Diversity Clerkship Program

    diversity clerkship program logo

    Now in its 29th year, the Diversity Clerkship Program has placed more than 532 law students with more than 83 law firms, corporations, and government offices for an internship following the 1L year. The program is a summer employment experience that gives first-year law students with diverse backgrounds the opportunity to build legal practice skills and knowledge. Participating employers provide a paid, 10-week summer clerkship opportunity.

    In participating in the program, students develop vital interviewing skills, actual professional legal experience, and greater confidence to give them a boost when going into their 2L clerkship interviews.

    Special thanks to our 2021 employers, who make this program possible:

    • Alliant Energy
    • Bell Moore & Richter SC
    • Boardman & Clark
    • CapSpecialty
    • Dean Health Plan
    • Dewitt, LLP
    • Fiserv Inc.
    • GE Healthcare
    • Gingras, Thomsen & Wachs, Madison and Milwaukee Offices (2 clerks)
    • Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman, PC
    • Hawks Quindel
    • Kowalski Family Law
    • Ohiku Law Office
    • Legal Action of Wisconsin
    • Madison City Attorney's Office
    • Milwaukee City Attorney's Office
    • Molson Coors (2 clerks)
    • Northwestern Mutual
    • Rathje Woodward
    • Regal Beloit Corporation
    • Stafford and Rosenbaum
    • Wisconsin Department of Corrections
    • Wisconsin Department of Justice
    • Wisconsin Department Safety and Professional Services – Division of Legal Services
    • Zendesk

    Video from the 2021 Diversity Clerkship Program Reception.

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