When a few Baxter International Inc. lawyers recently filed into a classroom at Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Chicago, Ill., the high school students looked at them with some uncertainty.
"Initially, they were skeptical," said Peter Van, Social Studies and Economics teacher at Lindblom. He had hosted the visiting Baxter lawyers, paralegals and other professionals for in-classroom lessons with his students on various topics related to the law, in conjunction with Street Law, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching law, democracy and human rights, particularly among groups underrepresented in the legal field.
"However, once the visitors came in, the new voices in the classroom and wealth of experience got their attention," continued Van. "To see such a wide range of backgrounds among the lawyers and to learn about the travels each had to take to get to their profession really opened some new perspectives to them."
In this first year of participating with Street Law, 16 volunteers from Baxter's legal department spent several months immersed in creating high school curricula – in subjects such as trade and other business practice compliance, employment and intellectual property law – and then made 15 trips to Lindblom in April to teach these lessons to three classes of 60 students.
Street Law, which has been operating since 1972, offers a Corporate Legal Diversity Pipeline Program that addresses diversity issues within the legal profession by connecting corporate legal departments with high schools to expose minority students to these career paths. As one of Baxter's key priorities is to promote an inclusive and diverse workplace – both within the company, as well as in the larger community – the Corporate Legal Diversity Pipeline Program was a natural fit for the Baxter legal department. Baxter also has had a longstanding relationship with Lindblom-the school is closely connected through the company's Science@Work program, which supports teacher training and student development in healthcare and biotechnology.
The culmination of the Street Law program was highlighted with a special day for students at the offices of Kirkland & Ellis in downtown Chicago, hosted by Baxter. At the all-day event, Baxter lawyers taught workshops and hosted a career fair that offered the teens an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the legal profession and have candid discussions with Baxter lawyers and other professionals about their day-to-day jobs.
In addition to providing tutorials, Baxter employees also engaged the kids in activities that gave them a taste of various legal professions.
"For employment law, we broke them into groups-one half representing lawyers and the other half representing employees, and the Baxter lawyer acted as the witness being deposed," said Dawn Maloney, senior counsel at Baxter and the company's Street Law coordinator.
The students responded with enthusiasm. "The Lindblom students' energy and astute questions impressed our team," said David Scharf, corporate vice president, general counsel, who participated in the program. "The Street Law program has been a great learning experience for everyone involved."
Van agreed. "It couldn't have gone better," he said. "The students liked feeling like they were a lawyer for a day."
Baxter's first year involved in Street Law has been a rewarding one, and the company plans to participate again next year.
"It's important because we're part of a bigger community, and we want to make sure we provide opportunities for kids who may not have had those," said Maloney. "If one student decides that this type of career might be something he or she can now consider, then we're doing something good for that community, and for Baxter."
Van has seen this positive impact on his students firsthand.
"Students have told me, 'I really like the work they do.' And they see that the legal field is more than just trial lawyers," he said. "One of the best parts is that some students who didn't think that they had the academic drive to pursue these careers are now considering it."