The State Bar celebrated 26 years of the Diversity Clerkship Program with a reception for participating employers and law student clerks. Visit the State Bar's Facebook page for more photos of the event. Pictured: Clerk Julie Leary, right, with Makda Fessahaye of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
Aug. 1, 2018 – For 25 years, Tom Stilp and his law firm has hired first-year law students as summer interns, as part of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Diversity Clerkship Program. That’s all but the first three years of the program’s existence.
Stilp recalls being in the market for a law clerk in 1993, and pitching the program to decision-makers at Liberty Mutual, for whom the Law Offices of Thomas Stilp acts as staff counsel. “It really didn’t take much convincing,” he said.
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.
Stilp’s firm participates year after year because of his experience with the clerks. “I have learned so much from our clerks over the years about cultures, traditions, lifestyles, and their hardships,” he said. “And I get great satisfaction as I see them flourish in their legal careers.”
And, most importantly: “I have made lifelong friendships as a result of our participation in this program,” Stilp said.
Stilp’s firm is the recipient of the program’s Employer Champions of Diversity Award, and spoke at a reception in July at the State Bar Center.
Now in its 26th year, the Diversity Clerkship Program has placed 473 law students with more than 77 law firms, corporations, and government offices. 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 for first-year law students with diverse backgrounds.
Hearing, speaking, and seeing “no evil”: Clerk Darius Mosley, with Heather Nett and Dan Mulvey of Thrivent Financial.
Vital for the Future
That diversity, Stilp says, is vital to the future survival of his firm – and the profession. Diversity and inclusion attracts the top talent, and it encourages innovation and creativity.
“Our thoughts, ideas, and beliefs are largely formed by our own personal experiences,” he said. If everyone we interact with looks alike and talks alike and has the same experiences, then when it comes time to find solutions to legal issues and problems, they may not find good, innovative solutions. “Diversity leads to differences of opinion – which is good, because that leads to intellectual debate, creativity, and innovation,” Stilp said.
My clerk’s questions challenged me to rethink some of my assumptions about my practice.
– James Junger
“If you are perceived as an organization that does not value diversity, it will be very difficult to attract any candidates,” Stilp said, “because today’s job seekers do not want to work in an environment where everyone looks the same, and where opinions that deviate from the norm are not appreciated.”
Diversity and inclusion strengthens firms because it reflects our communities. “We need employees who reflect the clients we serve, the communities in which we live and, in our area of practice, the juries before whom we practice,” Stilp said.
“Charlie’s Angels” pose, with clerk Jordan Daigle, center, with Patrick Berry and Patrick Neuman of Boardman & Clark.
21 Practice Interviews
Each year, participating employers interview each clerk in the program – a very valuable experience, says Julie Leary, a student at Marquette University Law School who clerked with the Department of Corrections. “Interviews are really only improved through practice,” says Leary. “And we got a lot of experience with many different interview styles.”
Her job interview advice: While it’s good to anticipate answers to certain common questions, don’t script everything. “If you get caught up in remembering your canned answers or sticking to a script of sorts, then you will miss the opportunity to have a conversation with the employer and show your personality.”
Clerk Sonam Dorji, left, with Tom Stilp of the Law Offices of Thomas Stilp, who was honored for participating in the program for 25 years. Stilp spoke during the program to explain why his firm has participated in the Diversity Clerkship Program for 25 years.
Great Challenges, Valuable Experience
Darius Mosely, a clerk with Thrivent Financial and student at Marquette, is the first in his family to go to law school. His experience at Thrivent Financial opens pathways for him into his profession. “They came with welcoming arms, and provided me the opportunity to learn what it is to be a lawyer.”
The experience at Thrivent was an exploration of practicing in corporate law and as an in-house counsel, working on privacy laws and compliance, credit checks, and mediation. “It is a great, great experience,” Mosely said.
He’s learned to be confident in his abilities to complete a task – which means it’s OK to ask questions. “Every lawyer doesn’t know everything,” Mosely said.
Judge Carl Ashley, right, with Terreea Shropshire, a clerk for Rockwell Automation, Inc.
Leary admits she did not know what to expect. “I knew I would be challenged,” she said. The Department of Corrections deals with a wide variety of legal issues – something that surprised her. She is glad for the amount of support and guidance she’s received. “I understand now the immediate impact a legal issue has on those involved.”
And the experience means that employment law is a possible path for her. “I had never considered it as a prospective career before,” Leary said.
Her favorite experience as a clerk: “I represented the department in an unemployment insurance appeal. Getting my first objection sustained was the highlight of my year,” Leary said. “That was a really exciting moment for me.”
Employers Needed for 2019 Summer Diversity Clerkship Program
Employers – law firms, corporate legal departments, and government agencies – are needed for the 2019 Diversity Clerkship Program.
The State Bar’s Diversity Clerkship Program is a limited-term, 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 for a first-year law student with a diverse background.
Employers can enroll through Jan. 18, 2019. Learn more about the program, or contact Bryant Park at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6181.
Learning While Teaching
Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman PC of Milwaukee looked to the program as a first-time employer this year when a need arose for a summer clerk, said James Junger, an attorney with the firm.
Participation has many benefits. “The program is a great way to get in touch with motivated, talented young law students. Their experiences inform the work they do, and your practice will be better for it,” Junger said.
His clerk, Rae-Anna Sollestre, helped him become a better teacher and gain a deeper understanding of his own practice. “Working with her reminded me that you don't understand a thing until you can teach it. Her questions challenged me to rethink some of my assumptions about my practice,” Junger said.
Tom Stilp of the Law Offices of Thomas Stilp, center, is recipient of the Employer Champions of Diversity award. With him in the photo are, from left: State Bar Executive Director Larry Martin, State Bar President Chris Rogers, Makda Fessahaye of the Department of Corrections and host of the program; and Judge Carl Ashley, chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Oversight Committee.
The summer program is important as well to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, which has participated since 2004.
“We value the opportunity to work with law students of diverse backgrounds, and impart knowledge on to them,” said Makda Fessahaye, assistant legal counsel with the department. “We make sure our clerks get hands-on learning experiences and opportunities.”
Fessahaye encourages other employers to become involved with the program. “The program not only benefits the clerks, but also the employer. We are always looking for new ways to teach the next generation of lawyers about the law.”
Visit the State Bar's Facebook page for more photos of this event.
James Junger, an attorney with Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman PC, points to the firm’s name on the list of employers who have participated in the Diversity Clerkship Program since its inception.
A Special Thanks to Our 2018 Employers
- Alliant Energy
- American Family Mutual Insurance Co.
- Boardman & Clark
- Church Mutual Insurance
- Clean Wisconsin
- Cramer, Multhauf & Hammes LLP
- GE Healthcare
- Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman PC
- The Law Office of Odalo J. Ohiku
- The Law Offices of Thomas P. Stilp
- Madison City Attorney’s Office
- Milwaukee City Attorney’s Office
- Northwestern Mutual Insurance Company
- Quartz Health Solutions
- Regal Beloit
- Rockwell Automation, Inc.
- Stafford Rosenbaum, LLP
- Thrivent Financial
- Urban & Taylor SC
- Wisconsin Department of Corrections