Brown Rudnick is pleased to introduce its first 1L Social Mobility Diversity Fellow, Lydell Benson. Benson, a first-year law student at George Washington University Law School, is working in Brown Rudnick’s New York office as a summer associate.

The Fellowship is a groundbreaking program aimed at first-year law students who are also the first members of their families to graduate from college. The Fellowship, unlike any other law firm-sponsored honors program, provides the recipient with an opportunity for substantive work and professional development experience, as well as a significant scholarship.

Ari Joseph, Director of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity at Brown Rudnick, sat down with the program’s inaugural fellow to discuss their shared experience of joining the legal profession as first generation college graduates. The conversation has been edited for clarity.

 

Ari Joseph: How did you discover that you wanted to practice law?

Lydell Benson: It started when I was a kid in Philadelphia. At an early age I recognized that if I were to become a lawyer, I could have a lifelong career built on advocating for others, and I’ve always been very passionate about that. I was also drawn to a profession that allows you to continue to grow and learn as a person and as a professional.  That is really challenging and that attracted me to pursue a legal career.

 

AJ: What attracted you to our Social Mobility Fellowship?

LB: When I saw the program was seeking someone who was the first person in their family to graduate from college, I knew immediately that it was something different. There are a lot of diversity programs out there, but I hadn't seen one like this, anywhere, from any other firm. As well as providing a great work experience and opportunity to grow professionally, it showed me a unique commitment to improving diversity and providing opportunities to those who may not have them.

 

AJ: How do you feel about being a diversity candidate in this particular area of diversity?  Race and gender are immediately apparent, but you wouldn’t otherwise have to reveal that you are first from your family to graduate from college.  Does identifying with that make you apprehensive?

LB: I don’t have that much apprehension about being different.  I take a lot of pride in being the first member of my family to graduate from college. And being different isn't something that's new to me – I went to private school, starting in the fifth grade. I was one of two or three black students in my class. I learned to adapt to my surroundings and turn my differences into strengths. Being known as the first of Brown Rudnick’s Social Mobility Diversity fellow certainly doesn't inhibit me from succeeding. It motivates me to do better and create opportunities for myself so I can create opportunities for someone else who may be in a similar situation.

 

Ari Joseph was also the first in his family to graduate from college, a big part of his motivation for developing the Social Mobility Diversity Fellowship. Benson had a few questions for him, as well.

Lydell Benson: Where did this idea for the 1L Fellowship come from?

Ari Joseph: Brown Rudnick is committed to creating a workplace environment that is inclusive and fair to all employees, lawyers and staff alike. The firm’s Managing Directors came to me and suggested we do a diversity fellowship. We could have done one very similar to the many others that are out there. But as a first generation college graduate myself, I know firsthand that while there are many challenges to being a person of color in the legal profession, I experienced just as many if not more challenges as a first generation college graduate.  For me, learning the language of corporate culture was the biggest hurdle -- how to find a mentor, a sponsor, how to build relationships with my executive assistants and staff. 

Certainly there are implicit biases you have to deal with if you are a minority, a woman, or LGBTQ.  But socioeconomic diversity is often hidden.  And while it might not be immediately apparent to many people, they can unconsciously act on biases against others who lack the cultural knowledge that is gained when one grows up with parents who’ve worked in a corporate environment.  So we decided to create a fellowship to address that. 

 

LB: How do you view the value that socioeconomic diversity brings to the firm, compared to the types of diversity that are discussed more often?

AJ: Brown Rudnick really values and works hard to leverage different types of knowledge and experience. If you have diversity within your ranks, you can provide better solutions to your clients. And we are a global business law firm – our clients are all over the world. We have to have diversity, of all types. 

So it is important that we emphasize not just skin color, but also diversity of experience and background.  Yes, a lot of people who are first generation college graduates are going to be of color, just as you and I are.  But this Fellowship is more inclusive than a traditional diversity fellowship. It is open to students of all races. Your unique experiences growing up in Philly adds value to Brown Rudnick. The experiences of a white student from a poor rural area can add value too. 

 

LB: Can you talk about specific skills and capabilities I can expect to gain this summer?

AJ: In addition to you, we have ten other summer associates, and we want all of you to leave us with an understanding of what practicing law at Brown Rudnick is like. Our lawyers are some of the sharpest people I’ve ever met, and through their feedback and mentoring, you’ll head into your next year of law school as a better writer and critical thinker.  

In addition to hard skills, we will also help you learn how to be better communicators who work cooperatively with others. We provide training and coaching on the social skills needed to be successful in a business law firm.

I often think of Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow. He describes system one and system two thinking. System one thinking is automatic. What subway line will I take to work? What will I eat for lunch? It concerns things that don’t require a lot of thought. If you grow up among corporate professionals, how to interact and network with people is automatic, system one thinking. But when you’re new to an environment or culture, system two thinking kicks in. System two thinking actually burns more calories. It requires greater focus and attention and can make you nervous and anxious. That is what we are trying to get at with this fellowship. We want to ease our fellows, and all our summer associates who are new to corporate environments, into system one thinking by providing exposure and guidance for networking, navigating politics, and the other soft skills that lawyers need.

 

First-year law students can find more information about the 1L Social Mobility Diversity Fellowship here. Questions should be referred to Brown Rudnick's Legal Recruitment Department (recruiting@brownrudnick.com).