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Bar foundation launches diversity scholarship for first-year students

The California Bar Foundation announced last month that it will launch a new diversity scholarship program to help bolster the numbers of people from diverse backgrounds entering the legal profession. The first round of diversity scholarships, in individual awards of up to $7,500, will be distributed next fall.

The program will provide financial support and individual recognition to first-year law students from groups historically underrepresented in the California bar and help pay tuition, fees, books and related education expenses — costs that keep rising and often leave recent graduates more than $80,000 in debt. Individuals who have been admitted to and have committed to attend a California law school in the fall of 2008 are eligible to apply.

The application deadline is June 18.

"The legal profession can't expect to achieve equal opportunity for all Californians, when — in one of the most diverse states in our nation — we've failed to reach out ourselves to underrepresented communities and diversify our own bar," said State Bar President Jeff Bleich, who serves on the foundation's board of directors.

"Over 53 percent of California's population is Latino, African American, Asian and Pacific Islander and Native American, but only 17 percent of our State Bar's membership is. The foundation's new diversity scholarship will help to close this gap by reducing the financial burdens upon minority students with financial need — helping them make it through that grueling 1L year and ultimately succeed in becoming practicing attorneys."

The foundation is offering law firms and other donors the opportunity to support the new program with tax-deductible donations to the Diversity Scholarship Fund. With a three-year, $10,000 per year pledge, donors may sponsor one of the top scholarship awards and publicly show their support for increasing diversity in the legal profession. Each scholarship will carry the name of the donor or the donor's firm.

"Echoing sentiments we have heard from all corners of the State Bar membership, who see the issue as a business imperative in today's global economy, the California Bar Foundation has made increasing the number of minority lawyers, particularly African Americans and Latinos, a top priority," said Scott Wylie, foundation president.

"The foundation has a particularly important role to play in this effort because California's public law schools, as a result of Proposition 209, are unable to target support to students of color. We invite lawyers and law firms from across the state to join us in tackling this important issue that affects the future of the profession."

Applicants may download the 2008 Diversity Scholarship Application from the foundation's Web site, calbarfoundation.org. More information is available from Joilene Grove, jgrove@calbarfoundation.org, or 415-856-0780, ext. 302.

For information about giving to the Diversity Scholarship Fund, contact Executive Director Leslie Hatamiya at lhatamiya@calbarfoundation.org or 415-856-0780, ext. 303.

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