New Facebook Legal Scholars Program Helps Diverse Students Navigate the First Year of Law School

In July, Facebook’s Head of Legal Operations and Santa Clara Law adjunct professor Akshay Verma JD ’06 collaborated with a team from Facebook and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP to launch the Facebook Legal Scholars Program, a 2-day program for diverse incoming law students at Santa Clara Law, USF School of Law, and UC Hastings College of the Law. 

“Uncertainty is the biggest driver of anxiety,” said Verma. “The goal of this program is to give incoming diverse first-year law students a two-day primer on what it is like to be a 1L. Law school is difficult, and the first year is really tough because you are learning a new language and a new way of thinking. We hope this program gives these students a level of confidence going into that first year.” 

This program was the brainchild of Yendelela Holston, partner and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP. “We have had a strong, successful program in place for four years with another client from which to model our Facebook program,” said Holston. “Our goal is to help students in navigating law school, especially those who may not have a network to whom they can turn for guidance. By providing tools for academic excellence, opportunities for meaningful employment, and a network of diverse role models and mentors, we hope to give scholars a solid foundation for success throughout their legal careers. It is important for the firm, which values diversity, to be actively involved in increasing the diversity of the legal pipeline,” said Holston. 

The original plan was an in-person event, but due to the pandemic, organizers pivoted to an online format, which Holston said worked surprisingly well. “Creating camaraderie and fellowship among the students is important in building a lasting network, and we weren’t sure that would happen with no in-person breaks, etc,” said Holston. “Based on the feedback, the emails, and LinkedIn messages/posts, our fears were unfounded—they are building a community, which I think is a testament to this inaugural group’s resiliency and resourcefulness during a unique time.”

The program included many guest speakers, all of whom volunteered their time, and they covered topics including how to brief legal cases, an explanation of the Socratic method, a contract law primer, panels of 2Ls discussing the challenges of the first year of law school, a panel of the deans of the three law schools, moderated by Verma, as well as a session on optimizing virtual learning, wellness, and self-care. 

“We hope this program will create more opportunities for these students in their careers,” says Verma, adding that the program team will stay in touch with these students over the next several years to track outcomes and impact of the program.

The program received close to 100 applications, and the planning team selected 30 participants for this year based on the student’s commitment to diversity as reflected in a personal statement and work experience. 

“I had been apprehensive about beginning law school, especially remotely during a pandemic, but the Facebook Legal Scholars program left me excited for what is to come and confident that I will be able to succeed,” said participant Clay Goode, who is a new law student at Santa Clara Law. “It is great to see companies like Facebook and firms like Kilpatrick Townsend promote diversity in the legal profession as one of their key priorities. I am excited to work toward a more diverse and inclusive legal community while at Santa Clara.”

New Santa Clara Law student Swathi Sreerangarajan also attended the program and said it was a positive experience. “I truly appreciated the attorneys’ time and effort in pulling the whole event together. They touched on a variety of study skills and life skills that were incredibly helpful,” she said. Sreerangarajan highlighted some key takeaways, including “the importance of professionalism and of building good relationships right from the start—our network, which is crucial to success in this field, starts with our classmates, our professors, and everyone else we meet in law school.” She also appreciated the programs’ focus on “the importance of developing good writing and critical thinking skills in order to succeed in this profession,” and “the importance of investing in our own well-being. This is a long journey and we need to figure out ways to sustain it and stay fulfilled.”

“As one of the most diverse law schools in the United States, Santa Clara Law is proud to participate in this program because we know how critical it is to diversify the legal profession,” said Anna Han, interim dean of Santa Clara Law. “I enjoyed speaking on the Deans’ panel and was gratified that a number of students, including those enrolled in other law schools, reached out to connect with me afterward. It shows that the lessons we shared on proactively reaching out to professors and mentors were heard. We thank Akshay Verma for helping to develop this important program and including Santa Clara Law students in it.” 

Organizers are planning a 2021 event, which they hope to hold in person. For more information, contact Yendelela Holston, partner and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP.