Company: Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
Innovation Title: Akin Gump/Robert S. Strauss Diversity & Inclusion Scholarship Program
Company Website: www.akingump.com
Year Introduced: 2013
Launched in 2013, Akin Gump’s Robert S. Strauss Diversity & Inclusion Scholarship (SDIS) program is one of the firm’s most innovative recruiting initiatives. The program is offered in our five largest U.S. offices: Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. It is unique in that it spans two summers, with the scholars spending six weeks of the first summer with the firm and four weeks at a firm client. The second summer, the scholars participate in the firm’s general 2L summer associate program.
Named for firm founder Robert Strauss, the SDIS program continues his vision and pursuit of racial, ethnic, gender, economic and cultural diversity. Scholars from diverse backgrounds are given the opportunity to gain direct experience working at a global law firm as well as an in-house legal department at a client – resulting in a 360-degree perspective of the practice of law. Splitting the scholars’ first summer in this manner gives them a unique opportunity to develop client relationships at the very start of their legal careers and to build upon those relationships when they return to the firm as a practicing attorney.
In addition to the salary they earn at the firm during their two summers, the scholars receive a $25,000 award to help offset law school expenses.
While the SDIS program has existed since 2013, in 2019, the firm began offering the scholarship to 1Ls instead of 2Ls in order to connect with talented, diverse students earlier in the recruiting cycle. We also added the client partnership element as a way to better connect with our clients in the drive to further diversity, equity and inclusion in the legal profession.
The firm continues to expand the SDIS program, now offering Financial Restructuring and Intellectual Property focused SDIS programs for 1L students interested in careers in these practice areas.
As a result of these enhancements, the SDIS program has allowed the firm to attract talented, diverse law students and deepen our connections with firm clients. This program has been so successful that we increased the number of scholars from 11 in 2021 to 23 in 2022.
The legal industry has consistently faced the challenge of identifying and hiring diverse legal talent. The establishment of the SDIS program has contributed significantly to the firm’s efforts to continue to provide diverse perspectives for our clients and vibrant career opportunities for lawyers. The impact on our firm’s diversity has been significant – among our summer associates, our 2022 class was our most diverse class to date and, for the first time, exceeded the most recent National Association for Law Placement (NALP) average of 42%. In addition, the number of SDIS program applicants has continued to increase year over year, from 700 applicants in 2020 to a record 1,300 applicants in 2022!