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Brooklyn legal pipeline aims to increase diversity in the legal community

February 28, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The local bar associations are taking part in the Brooklyn Legal Pipeline Initiative, a program designed to increase minority presence in the legal community. From left: Claire Rush, Tahesha Osignowo, Paula Edgar, Hon. Joanne Quinones, Rodney Pepe-Souvenir and Lance Ogiste. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese

The Brooklyn Legal Pipeline Initiative, a program designed to get diverse students into law school and the legal profession, kicked off on Monday night at the Brooklyn Bar Association in Brooklyn Heights.

About 20 students are paired up with mentors for the program. They attend five, two-hour classes that teach students how to apply to law school, how to network, how to find an internship and how to interview. Mock interviews are conducted during the final week and students are then placed in summer internships.

The program was designed with the help of Claire Rush and Paula Edgar, president of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, and is co-sponsored by the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association (BWBA), the Defense Association of New York (DANY) and the Brooklyn Bar Association (BBA).

“Most people of color don’t have a lawyer in their family,” Edgar said. “Many times I talk to students and they tell me the first lawyer they met was during a time where it wasn’t a good thing. Learning that culture is not something that is just going to come to you, you have to immerse yourself into it.”

For the first month’s class, Edgar and Rush brought in a group of attorneys and one judge to talk to the students including Aimee Richter, president-elect of the BBA; Tahesha Osinowo; Rodney Pepe-Souvenir; Lance Ogiste; Vincent P. Pozzuto, president of DANY; M. Michelle Fulton; Christopher Carrion; Carrie Anne Cavallo, recording secretary of the BWBA; and Justice Joanne Quinones.

“I remember when I was in high school, I didn’t have any lawyers in my family. I didn’t know any lawyers, I only knew what I saw on television,” Richter said. “I was really lucky because I had a teacher ask me to get involved in a mock trial tournament. I was very nervous, but we went down to the courthouse, I got up in the courtroom and started speaking. It was right around then that I thought, ‘Wow, maybe I could do this.’”

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One by one, the attorneys got up and told their stories about how they got involved in the legal profession, what their law practice does and how they go about doing it every day.

“As college students who are interested in law school, one thing you need to realize is that not all lawyers are like the ones you see on TV,” Pozutto said. “A lot of lawyers haven’t seen a courtroom since they were sworn in to practice law. They draft contracts, they review contracts, they negotiate deals, real estate deals. You can choose that area of the law it doesn’t have to be litigation. There are so many different things that you can do with this degree.”

Quinones told her story about how she went from a kid growing up in Bushwick who wanted to become a child psychologist, but instead became a legal aid society, then a court attorney and then finally a judge.

“Whatever you do, people are watching and you want to make sure that you always put forth your best effort,” Quinones said. “When I was in my third year at legal aid, I was approached by a court attorney to the supervising judge who asked me if I wanted to become a court attorney.

I had never considered becoming a court attorney or a judge. I was happy at the Legal Aid Society. I found my niche, but this person saw me and thought that I would be an asset.”

At the end of the session, Edgar assigned the group homework designed to keep them engaged with the topics. The next time the program meets, on March 13, Edgar will take the group through the process of applying to law school. She will not only guide them through preparing for the LSAT and how to pay for school, but she will also bring in a college career counselors and a law school admissions officers to speak to the students.

 

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