SVUDL Salutes Champions of the Legal Pipeline Challenge
Volume #6, Week of October 22, 2018
Finding Empowerment Through the Pipeline
By Amy McElroy
Tammy Albarrán wanted to be an attorney since her mock trial experience in seventh grade. She’s now the Deputy General Counsel for Uber Technologies, Inc., and a former partner at Covington and Burling. But she could never have envisioned this life becoming a reality until an experience with some special mentors gave her hope.
“I came from a lower class background,” Albarrán said. “Both my parents immigrated from Mexico.” But they always emphasized the importance of education to her and her three siblings. “I participated in mock trial in 7th and 8th grade. My role at the time, although I really wanted to be a lawyer, was a witness. I was hugely disappointed,” she said. “But I didn’t give up on that dream.”
Mentors Provide Guidance and Support
Albarrán didn’t know any lawyers in her family, her parents’ circle of friends, or have any professional connections. Before she started mock trial, she had only seen lawyers on television. But during the mock trial experience, the lawyer mentors took the students on a trip to the courthouse.
Having never done anything like that before, Albarrán said, “I remember distinctly walking down the marble halls.” They toured each part of the courtroom: the witness stand, the judge’s bench, jury box, counsel’s table. She had a panic attack thinking, “I’m never going to be able to do this!” Her nerves unraveled, she sat down, “overwhelmed with sobbing on a bench outside the courtroom.”
Then, one of the attorneys leading the tour came over to her. Albarrán recalled they said that even with all their experience, “they still get nervous, and that’s okay. Once they get going, they just kind of get into the moment.” She said, “It was kind of comforting.”
In hindsight, Albarrán explained her response to the courtroom: “A lot of it had to do with the fact that it just wasn’t my world. It was incredibly nerve wracking.”
She told this same story to the students when she was asked to speak at the opening to SVUDL’s moot court event last May. That’s one of the ways she’s become involved with SVUDL. The organization’s Board Chair, VP and Deputy General Counsel for HPE Willie Hernandez came to speak at Covington and Burling about SVUDL, when Albarrán was still working there. She said the firm decided to partner with SVUDL through fundraising and participation in other events because “there’s a strong commitment from the firm to build the pipeline to develop greater diversity in future lawyers.”
Building Diversity Through the Pipeline
In fact, she sees the “pipeline issue” as one the greatest challenges to achieving and sustaining diversity in the legal profession. According to Albarrán, “We need to get more people interested in the profession. We don’t really see much improvement in who is going to law school. Law firms are all pulling from the same small pool.”
But she sees SVUDL attacking that issue, head-on: “That’s one of the beauties of this particular program—targeting students at a really young age. If you increase the pool of candidates in law, you increase diversity overall.”
Albarrán believes it’s crucial that leadership in the legal field take a thoughtful, proactive approach to diversity. “It’s not just saying you commit to diversity, but actually living it,” she said. “If candidates I’m looking at are not diverse, I go back and ask ‘Why?’” She explained that it’s about “being mindful, really actively ensuring you are keeping track of your numbers. And if you’re not improving, getting at the root cause.” Often, she finds, that means attracting more diverse candidates, circling back to the pipeline issue.
Now that she works in-house at Uber, Albarrán describes several ways in which SVUDL fits into the company’s ongoing efforts to support diversity in its ranks and in the legal profession overall. First and foremost, “it’s focusing on the pipeline program.” In addition, Uber is “not just attracting diverse people into our program,” she explained, “but also the attorneys who work for the outside law firms we hire.” She described the numerous benefits of having more diverse attorneys at Uber—above and beyond fairness issues: “Diverse attorneys bring more creativity, better problem solving, and better creative solutions to our thorny legal problems.”
Bravery to Seek New Adventure
As for anyone considering the legal profession, Albarrán would advise them to “take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself, and don’t be afraid of the unknown.” Looking back, she said she may have passed up opportunities because she was afraid of things that were unfamiliar. “I didn’t grow up with a lot of privileges,” she said. So, in college she learned she “had to grow my network from scratch.”
Albarrán’s senior year, she applied for an opportunity to work at a New York City law firm. “I’d never been to New York City or seen the inside of a law firm. It was terrifying.” For the first time, she said, “I had to go buy a suit.” There were so many unknowns, she explained. “I didn’t know what to expect.” But she was rewarded for her courage to explore. “It was one of the best, richest experiences I had because I learned so much from being in that office.”
Every year since its inception, SVUDL has amassed a coalition of leaders across the legal profession to make generous financial contributions to support SVUDL’s debate teams in partner schools and after-school programs through the Legal Pipeline Challenge (LPC).
The LPC is a meaningful opportunity for law firm partners and corporate counsel to address, on a micro level, some of the inequalities in access that exist to educational enrichment opportunities in Silicon Valley. By supporting SVUDL, attorneys can help extend the skills and power of debate to talented and motivated low-income high school students and inspire some of these students to consider future careers in the legal profession.
The 2018 Legal Pipeline Challenge will take place from October 15-26. For more information, please contact Willie Hernandez, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and SVUDL Board Chair, at email@example.com.