SEATTLE, April 15, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- The University of Washington (UW) School of Law, supported by a number of leading Puget Sound-area businesses and law firms, today announced the creation of the Gregoire Fellows program. Launching in spring of 2015, the program is an initiative to promote and enhance diversity at the UW School of Law and the Seattle region's legal profession. It is initially supported by Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft Corp., Nintendo of America Inc., Seattle Genetics Inc., Starbucks Corp., Vulcan Inc., Weyerhaeuser Co., Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Foster Pepper PLLC, K&L Gates LLP, Lane Powell PC, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, Perkins Coie LLP and Stoel Rives LLP.
The gap between diversity in the legal profession and diversity in the United States has worsened in recent years, according to the Microsoft-commissioned Raising the Bar study. To address that gap, stakeholders throughout the legal profession must take an active role in developing a pipeline of diverse law students and supporting them throughout their education.
"If we are to realize our goal of leadership for the global common good and of creating a legal profession as diverse as our society's makeup, we need to encourage more under-represented students to enter the legal profession," said Kellye Testy, UW Law Dean and Judge James W. Mifflin University Professor. "This innovative partnership will help us better reach students who are currently pursuing other paths. Moreover, by enhancing diversity in our classrooms we will enhance our academic excellence for all students. "
The Gregoire Fellows program was formulated with this goal in mind. Nine Fellows who have the potential to increase diversity within the legal profession will be named for the UW School of Law's entering class in the fall of 2015. They will receive paid summer fellowships within the participating law firms and departments after the first year of study, along with ongoing opportunities to participate in a mentorship program sponsored by former Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire, and financial assistance with bar exam preparation at the conclusion of their studies.
"In Washington, diversity is a community value, and it gives our state a base of strength and knowledge on which to build our future," said former Washington governor and sponsor of the Fellows mentor program, Chris Gregoire. "We know that most law school graduates remain in the state to practice after graduation. The Fellows program offers the potential to increase diversity in both the legal profession and the judiciary to better represent our growing and diverse population in Washington."
The UW School of Law, ranked in the top 10 among public law schools nationally, has a longstanding commitment to diversity and equality, yet faces many of the same challenges as law firms do in recruitment and retention. Today, the UW School of Law is working hard to increase diversity in the legal profession by closing a large gap between the number of under-represented students admitted to the school and the number of those who ultimately enroll.
Addressing this diversity gap will have a positive impact on the Seattle community. King County has grown increasingly more diverse, with 30 percent of residents identifying themselves as Black, Asian, Hispanic or mixed ethnicity in the most recent census. However, the Washington State Bar Association reported that all minorities represented only 12 percent of its membership in 2012.
"Diversity needs to be one of the core values of the legal profession, and it needs to become even more central than it is today," said Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president of Legal and Corporate Affairs at Microsoft. "I believe we each have an important role to play in advancing diversity, and we are thrilled that so many Seattle-based legal entities have come together to create the Gregoire Fellows program to increase diversity in the legal profession in King County and Washington state."
Participation by other firms and companies is welcomed.