Diversity & Inclusion
DEI / Legal / Mentorship

A new program aims to diversify Delaware’s law pipeline

Richards, Layton & Finger and TeenSHARP teamed up to mentor college students and provide opportunities in the legal industry, creating valuable connections that could transform the local sector.

Doneene Damon, former president and chief diversity office at Richards Layton & Finger (Courtesy photo)
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The field of law has a dearth of people of color. Only 14% of lawyers identify as people of color across a nation that, according to the 2020 Census, is about 42% Hispanic, Black, Asian and Indigenous combined.

Wilmington-based TeenSHARP, which offers programs to help Black, recent immigrant and low-income youth in the area get into their top choice college (usually with a full-ride scholarship), launched an externship program with law firm Richards, Layton & Finger (RLF), geared toward its program alums now in college.

RLF is notable not just because it’s Delaware’s largest law firm, but because it was the first major law firm in Delaware — and one of the few nationally — to appoint a Black woman, Doneene Damon, as its president. Damon, who has been with RLF since 1992, now serves as the firm’s chief diversity director.

The virtual externship gave two TeenSHARP alums, Daniela and Lola, the opportunity to learn about the legal industry from RLF mentors, including Damon.

RLF has worked with law school students and pre-college students in its pipeline programs, but the TeenSHARP partnership marks the first time it had an established pipeline program for college students.

“TeenSHARP has been incredibly successful in identifying students who need support, who get admitted into wonderful colleges and universities and who really are excited about their future,” Damon said in an interview with Technical.ly. “So we thought by partnering with TeenSHARP, it would give us an opportunity to expose some of those students to what it means to work in the legal industry.”

The program highlights the legal industry in the broad sense: There are lawyers, of course, but the sector offers different careers that college students may not be aware of, including technologists, marketers and administrators.

Daniela, a second-year student at Cornell University, immigrated with her family to the US from Mexico at three years old. She has considered going into immigration law, politics and/or economics.

“I was debating whether I wanted to be an immigration lawyer,” Daniela told Technical.ly. “Because I was also an immigrant coming into the United States, and I’ve always wanted to help people in one way or another.”

The externships included completing several projects with different mentors in areas like business development and marketing, library and reference and pro-bono DEI.

“They were reiterating that there are so many jobs out there [in the legal sector] that I just did not know about because I come from a background of workers, so the main thing that I would see would be the men doing construction or agriculture and the women doing domestic kind of labor,” Daniela added. “I was like, wow, there’re so many things that I didn’t even realize, and I think that’s really what it was about.”

Damon —  who was a first-generation college student, like most TeenSHARP alums — knows what it’s like to lack a network of people to ask for advice about things like what classes to take if you want a certain job.

“Having somebody that you can talk to and reach out to and ask questions — because you don’t know what you don’t know — is incredibly helpful,” Damon said. “One of the things that I tell people all the time is that it’s really important not only for young people to raise their hand and say they want to be mentored, but it’s really important for those of us who are out working to raise our hands and say that we’re ready, willing, able to mentor others.”

The TeenSHARP partnership will continue, Damon said, and future cohorts will grow in size.

“The goal is to try to touch as many students as we can,” she said. “We don’t want it to be so big that it’s not meaningful. We want it to be big enough that we’re touching as many kids as we can in a meaningful way.”

Companies: TeenSHARP

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