One of Sidley Austin LLP’s goals is to achieve greater diversity, not just for the firm, but in the legal profession as a whole. Toward that end, in 2006, the Sidley Prelaw Scholars Initiative was launched, the first program of its kind among U.S. law firms.

Designed to address a recent decline in minority enrollment in U.S. law schools, this program provides financial support and guidance to as many as 36 minority and LGBT college juniors and seniors who have an interest in attending law school, demonstrate academic promise, and have financial needs that inhibit their legal career aspirations. Applicants come from across the country and a range of U.S. undergraduate institutions, including Ivy League and private colleges, public universities, and historically black colleges. Students complete an application that includes documentation of their academic success, financial need, and leadership skills, as well as a personal statement about their desire to study law.

Sidley Scholars receive an initial award that pays the tuition of a Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), preparatory course registration fees for the LSAT, and application fees for up to seven accredited law schools. Upon completing the LSAT preparatory course and law school applications, Scholars receive an additional scholarship award during their last year of college. At each Scholar’s request, they also receive coaching on law school application preparation and are mentored by lawyers and staff.

During the summer before law school matriculation, Sidley Scholars selected from the prior year’s application cycle are invited to Sidley’s home office in Chicago for an intensive two-day orientation to the traditional first-year law school courses and law school life. This orientation is taught by Sidley partners and associates, and joined by judges, academics, and in-house counsel from some of Sidley’s clients.

This year, lawyers from Eli Lilly, Takeda, The Gap and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, as well as federal court judges, are expected to participate. Scholars tour the federal courthouse in Chicago and meet with members of the bench. They hear from successful minority, racially diverse, and LGBT lawyers about diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. Sidley lawyers and other trained legal professionals provide an overview of first-year contracts, torts, criminal law, legal writing, civil procedure and property courses. Scholars bond during social events with Sidley’s lawyers and invited in-house lawyers. This introduction to law school helps students to make the most of their educational experience from the beginning, while managing some of the dislocation and stress that often burden first-year law students.

In the last six years, a number of other U.S. law firms have initiated programs modeled after Sidley Scholars. Successful participants in the Sidley Prelaw Scholars Initiative have been entering the legal profession for the last two years, and the firm has welcomed over 150 Sidley Scholars into the program since its inception. Many scholars have been accepted into some of the best law schools in the country, and after graduation have gone on to law firms, government and corporate positions, education, and business. For many, the Sidley Prelaw Scholars Initiative was the factor that made their dream of becoming a lawyer a reality.