After attending the 2011 August Job Fair, Marihug Cedeño '13 returned to the Law School determined to make a change. Working with fellow members of the Latino American Law Student Association (LALSA), she'd reach out to alumni, law firm recruiters, and corporate sponsors to organize a weekend workshop for the following year's 1L students.
"Going through the Job Fair, I had questions I wanted answered," said Cedeño, in Ithaca for the fourth annual Professional Development Boot Camp, co-hosted by LALSA, the Black Law Student Association (BLSA), and the Native American Law Student Association (NALSA) on March 13-14. "Where were the alumni of color who'd been through this process? How could we contact them? How could we gain their support? That's how it started, with the idea of helping first-year students get the anxiety out and the practice in while building community."
In the years since that first LALSA/BLSA program, the event has grown steadily. This year's boot camp began with a reception at Statler Hotel featuring keynote speaker Leslie Wheelock JD/MBA '84, who works as director of the United States Department of Agriculture's Office of Tribal Relations. From there followed two days of panel discussions, workshops, and mock interviews, with 18 alumni presenters, 26 upperclass advisors, and more than fifty 1Ls in attendance, culminating in a closing speech by Eduardo Peñalver, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law, at Willard Straight Hall.
"At Cornell Law, our twin values have always been excellence and inclusion, so this event is wholly in keeping with our best traditions," said Peñalver, summing up a history that begins with Andrew Dickson White's promise to instruct students regardless of sex or color, and continues into the present with Cornell's number-one ranking in diversity among the country's top law schools. "This kind of event is important, especially for people who are disproportionately first-generation college or law school students. We take pride in the strong sense of community we've built here, which extends beyond your time in Ithaca. We are committed to your success."
Delivering Friday's keynote, Wheelock, an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, talked about the importance of considering alternate careers outside Big Law, giving back to your community, and building an effective network of supporters. "Law school is tough, which is why it's important to have events like this," said Wheelock, who began her career in corporate and regulatory law. "There's a strength that comes from bringing these communities together, in knowing there's a support system you can rely on. It's difficult for each of us to move away from our people-family, history, and the place where we grew up are always going to be on our mind-but together, these communities have amazing stories and histories. The struggles we've had help keep us in tune with what's happening in the world today and create an environment unlike what other communities may have."
All around Saturday's Ivy Room luncheon, 1Ls sat with 2Ls, 3Ls, and alumni, sharing plans for the summer and highlights of the morning. Maria E. Fernandez '92, senior counsel for power systems and open power at IBM, described the event as an example of "diversity in the best sense," encouraging students to leverage their cultural identities into their strengths as lawyers.
Merritt Steele '17, the 2015-2016 president of NALSA, talked about the difficulties of accessing big city-advantages from her home in Oklahoma, and about her upcoming summer at the Equal Justice Society in San Francisco. Emmanuel Hiram Arnaud '16, the 2014-2015 president of LALSA, shared his excitement at becoming a summer associate at Paul Weiss, and emphasized the importance of welcoming students into the LALSA family regardless of cultural background.
"We have a very supportive environment here, and this boot camp really gets that across," said Edoardo Murillo '16, a member of LALSA and the event organizing committee. "The minority community here is very tight, very cohesive, very responsive to one another's needs. We have a minority family here, which you can see right here, and that's the truth."
"It's been a really good couple of days," added Melicia Morris '16, president of BLSA and a member of the organizing committee, as the weekend wound down. "Our goal is to create an inclusive and enlightening program that gives 1L students an opportunity to polish their skills in advance of the August Job Fair. It's a great tradition, and we hope it will continue for generations to come."
The 2015 LALSA, BLSA, and NALSA Professional Development Boot Camp was sponsored by Shearman & Sterling; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; Davis Polk & Wardwell; Gibson Dunn & Crutcher; Latham & Watkins; Millbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy; Perkins Coie; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Bond, Schoeneck & King; Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft; Hogan Lovells; Kirkland & Ellis; Linklaters; and Morrison & Foerster.
By Kenny Berkowitz