Legal departments typically like to hire attorneys who have some law firm experience, so it can be hard for recent law school graduates to secure in-house jobs.
A new initiative launched by the flexible in-house talent provider Paragon Legal in partnership with UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco aims to address that challenge for young lawyers while also supporting increased diversity in the legal profession.
Paragon has recently placed UC Hastings grads from underrepresented groups in commercial counsel roles at two of the talent platform’s existing clients: the technology company Dropbox and the fintech Affirm.
“There’s an increasing interest from law students in going into in-house positions, but those positions tend to be quite limited because they don't have the training of someone who's gone to a law firm and been part of a more formalized training structure,” said Trista Engel, CEO of Paragon Legal. “This bridges that gap because there's the expectation of an apprenticeship model.”
Law school participation
The Paragon Legal DEI Career Connect program is in its first year, so it began by placing one graduate at each of the two participating companies last month. The graduates will get experience with both the legal and business aspects of working in-house.
Engel said it made sense to launch the program with UC Hastings graduates because Paragon is also based in the Bay Area and members of its internal team and attorney network are Hastings graduates.
Fairuz Abdullah, UC Hastings’ director of employer relations, said the law school was eager to participate because it has typically placed postgraduate students “in residence” at small to midsize law firms.
Much like Engel, she said it is very challenging to place recent graduates at in-house legal departments because of their desire for more experienced lawyers. A recent survey of in-house attorneys found that 17% went directly in-house after law school compared to 78% who previously had outside counsel experience, according to an Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) report.
“I think having a program like this gives a student the structure and the understanding of what it's like to work in-house,” Abdullah said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to launch themselves, whether they decide to go to another in-house position or to go to a law firm.”
The idea for the Career Connect initiative was generated by Paragon’s DEI Council, Engel said, as diversity has always been a priority for the women-founded and women-led business launched in 2006.
As part of the law graduate selection process, candidates for the program were asked to provide statements about why Paragon’s DEI mission and goals connected with them. They were also asked to share how they would bring unique perspectives to in-house legal teams.
“This program creates opportunities for law school grads from underrepresented communities who tend to be underrepresented at law schools, in law firms and in the legal profession in general,” Engel said.
She said the program’s goal of advancing diversity in the legal industry also strongly resonated with UC Hastings and the two participating companies.
Growing the program
Engel said the Career Connect program has intentionally started small in the first year because Paragon wanted to ensure it could work out any issues that may arise and receive feedback from the participating parties.
In future years, the talent provider will consider expanding the reach of the program to other graduates and companies.
“We're in conversations with other clients and with other law schools to try to figure out the best path for us to expand the program without compromising any of the experience for the schools, the graduates and the clients,” Engel said.
Meanwhile, Abdullah said she anticipates there would be strong interest from additional UC Hastings graduates in participating in the program in the years to come.
“We are thrilled to be part of this momentous partnership and look forward to collaborating to select the next class of future attorneys,” she said.