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‘Compelling Stories’

FCBA Diversity Pipeline Placed Its First Interns

Employers and students gave high marks to FCBA’s new diversity pipeline program. The program offers first-year law students a tech, media and telecom (TMT) law and policy certificate and matches them with employers for internship programs. This summer, it placed 19 students into paid internships with eight law firms, five companies, four trade associations and one nonprofit advocacy group-law firm partnership. FCBA members Rudy Brioche and Celia Lewis initiated the project. Participants said they hope FCBA will place more interns in the future.

The rigorous, multistage competitive process had 100 applicants from 28 law schools nationwide. More than 30 reviewers were involved, Brioche said. Five people reviewed each applicant, scoring for grades and academic writing and looking for “compelling stories,” he said. “We’re encouraging employers to look at the whole student,” not just grades, said Lewis.

Reviewers selected 40 students for a seminar on interviewing skills. Students then were interviewed by groups of three -- representing a law firm, a trade association or company -- and an FCBA pipeline committee member. Each employer interviewed at least five students, then ranked three. Students also ranked potential employers, Brioche said. FCBA matched 40 students and employers for another round of interviews, and 19 students were offered internships with the 20 employers (Loeb & Loeb sponsored an intern to share with Future of Privacy Forum). Eight other students weren't matched but completed the certificate program.

Getting that certificate required more than 30 hours of seminars on six Saturdays, with guest speakers -- among them past and present FCC and FTC commissioners -- and sessions on administrative law, privacy and cybersecurity, content regulation, intellectual property, broadband, antitrust and technology, plus readings and written papers. FCBA paired each student with a mentor.

Plans began in spring 2019 when Brioche and Lewis started discussing the need to diversify tech, media and telecom law with people from historically underrepresented groups, primarily racial and ethnic, plus women and low-income, immigrant and LGBTQ communities, and help them succeed. “Lack of representation leads to myopic thinking,” said Brioche, who works at Comcast, a participating employer. “There hasn’t been any meaningful progress in ranks of improving diversification in the bar,” he said. Plus, Brioche said law students often don’t recognize the breadth of communications law, in part because law schools don’t offer many courses in communications law. Helping law schools develop more TMT courses is another program goal, he said: “We’re looking to create an elite corps of future communications leaders.”

Lewis drew from personal experience: “As a young attorney and a single parent,” she said, she didn’t have a network. When she joined FCBA in 2017, she came in “cold.” “I had no knowledge of the FCBA and I didn’t really have a path to network,” said Lewis, but she attended programs and asked questions. “I had to start from the ground up and build my own network.” Her hope for the new program is that students and new lawyers won't “have to go through as much challenging or time-consuming things as I went through,” said Lewis, speaking as an FCBA member, not an FCC employee.

The pipeline task force contacted law schools -- particularly historically black universities and colleges -- companies, associations and nonprofits to gauge interest and craft the program. When George Floyd was killed and civil unrest swept the country last summer, with companies “wanting to promote more diversity,” said Lewis, FCBA was “ready to take advantage of that moment.” That the COVID-19 pandemic forced it online meant it no longer had to be solely in the Washington, D.C., area.

FCBA has done a fantastic job in identifying a critical need … to have more diverse perspectives and more diverse voices,” said FPF’s John Verdi. Too much of tech is predominately male and white, he said. “We would like to see more voices who engage with tech” have a voice in how tech is regulated and policies made.

Charlene Bartels-Eshun said she developed an interest in privacy during part-time work at a health clinic. Her internship at FPF and Loeb, plus the TMT certificate, will demonstrate to prospective employers that “I’m legitimately interested in working in that field,” said Bartels-Eshun, a Howard University law student who emigrated from Ghana. She already has had campus interviews for next summer’s internship. “I believe some of those interviews I received” because of this summer’s work and the certificate.

She and other Howard students, including Kameron Mitchell, who interned in T-Mobile’s government affairs office, plan to bring TMT speakers to campus. The organizers “have our best interests in mind,” evidenced by “matching me with a person of color” as a mentor and because the program isn’t a “one-off,” said Mitchell, who's Black. FCBA is inviting participants to programs throughout the year and the mentorships are meant to be long term, organizers said. (Communications Daily is providing interns with free subscriptions through year-end.) “Having that exposure and that networking really” will be helpful in his career, Mitchell said.

Davis Wright has a diversity program but not explicitly focused on communications law. “We find in our diverse hires people who are particularly persistent and innovative in how they approach problems,” said Adam Caldwell. “The research is very strong … that diverse teams bring creativity and innovation, and they just create better solutions to complex problems.” He called Davis Wright’s FCBA intern, Edlira Kuka, “a future star of the communications bar.”

An Albanian immigrant who began Seattle University Law School about a decade after receiving her undergraduate degree, Kuka said the diversity program was “one of the best experiences I have had so far in the law.” Her advice for FCBA: Recruit more employers and students.