Investing in Our Profession’s Future
Read the full article in the May issue of Legal Management magazine.
The Foundation of ALA is supporting students as they work toward careers in legal.
In 2020, Monique N. Mahler, CLM, SHRM-CP, MSLA, was enrolled at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. Already a member of ALA, she was receiving the Association’s emails. One day, an email came into her inbox that especially intrigued her. “I saw the scholarship mentioned in one of the emails and thought, ‘Why not take a chance?’”
The chance paid off when a few months later, Mahler was chosen as the first recipient of the Foundation of the Association of Legal Administrators’ Student Legal Career Scholarship.
It was a gratifying moment for the Foundation Trustees, who worked tirelessly to get the program off the ground.
“This initiative of the Foundation is one of which I am personally very proud,” says Kyle A. Weigand, Immediate Past President of the Foundation and Director of Operations at Brouse McDowell. “Finding and fostering the future leaders of our profession is a prominent goal of not only the Foundation but also of ALA.”
Michelle Cohen is the Office Manager and Director of Human Resources at Schneck Law Group, LLC, as well as President of the Foundation. Cohen and Weigand were instrumental in helping the scholarship program get off the ground. She said she’s passionate about it because the Foundation is supporting the next wave of legal professionals.
“We had a chance to make this charitable arm of the ALA more visible and viable for the future while addressing needs in the legal management community, such as education about what legal management entails and outreach and support for a diverse body of students and current legal managers,” Cohen says. “They are the next generation that will be taking the helm of this profession.”
Weigand says the scholarship program is especially important because it helps encourage growth for legal professions outside of becoming a lawyer. “Receiving a scholarship increases the chances a potential legal management professional will be able to complete [their] education and feel even more compelled to work within our industry.”
Shannon Taylor is proof of that. As one of the 2021 scholarship recipients, she put the funds toward her education at Arizona State University’s (ASU) Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, from which she’ll graduate in May. She says it’s great the Foundation is providing a scholarship for those not just looking to become lawyers. She plans to continue her work in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) by maintaining her current role as manager for UPCAP Mediation Services, which provides low- or no-cost mediation services for Michigan residents.
CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION
Monique Mahler talked about her research project — that was funded in part by the Foundation of ALA — on an episode of Legal Management Talk. Her research examined what law firms are doing in a post-COVID-19 landscape, including remote work policies to the future of their real estate footprint. Listen to the podcast here .
“I am extremely grateful for this scholarship opportunity, as a majority of the scholarships that are available to students are geared specifically to those who are pursuing their JD,” says Taylor. “The scholarship opportunity provided by the Foundation is one of very few that targets students who are pursuing a non-attorney career in the legal industry.”
It’s something Jovana Kuvac, another 2021 recipient, was excited about, too. Also enrolled at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law to pursue a master’s in legal studies, Kuvac learned about the scholarship from an ASU adviser. Kuvac was inspired to apply and find out more about the Foundation’s dedication to supporting students like her, who have alternative aspirations and goals in the legal industry.
“I am passionate about all things related to conflict resolution, and specifically the practice of mediation,” she says. “This scholarship has supported my continued education and career as I continue growing into my role as a nontraditional legal industry professional. There is no limit to the potential for non-attorneys to contribute to and advance the legal industry. The financial and personal support provided by this scholarship has furthered my drive and determination to make a difference in the field of conflict resolution.”
FILLING A NEED
In addition to providing an opportunity in these niche legal fields, it provides much needed financial support. With the funds from the scholarship, Mahler was able to offset the cost of an entire summer session. She also used the funds to help her complete the work on her capstone project, a white paper she shared with the ALA community.
It underscores a modern fact about higher education: It’s exorbitantly expensive. According to a report from Georgetown University, the cost of college has gone up 169% in the past 40 years. The average in-state public school tuition is $27,330 per year, while the average tuition at a private nonprofit college is $55,800 per year. In 2020, the typical college student graduated with $28,400 worth of debt.
Many students aren’t able to pay back the loans they’ve taken out because they aren’t making enough money — especially when high interest is factored into the equation. Or students may not be able to complete their degrees because they can’t afford the cost anymore.
The Foundation is trying to alleviate some of that burden for emerging talent in the legal management field with this scholarship program. As the charitable affiliate of ALA, the Foundation funds the scholarship and the Foundation Board of Trustees manages it. The goal of the scholarship — which is part of a bigger Foundation push that focuses on students — is to enhance careers in the legal field.
“The legal industry is a rapidly changing one — we have been saying that now for many years,” says Weigand. “These scholarships help people directly pay for tuition expenses in our industry.”
“I am extremely grateful for this scholarship opportunity, as a majority of the scholarships that are available to students are geared specifically to those who are pursuing their JD. The scholarship opportunity provided by the Foundation is one of very few that targets students who are pursuing a non-attorney career in the legal industry.”
Christian Chicas, one of the 2021 recipients, appreciated that the scholarship was not just an opportunity for those pursuing non-attorney legal careers but also one that’s available to graduate students like her. She’s enrolled at ASU, where she’s studying for her master’s degree as she works as a paralegal.
“There are not a lot of scholarship opportunities for the degree I am receiving, and there are less scholarship opportunities for those in grad school,” says Chicas. “Thankfully, [the Foundation] awarded me a scholarship that helped me with my tuition. As a result, I am graduating [with a] master’s [from a] legal studies program in May 2022. [I] can’t wait to wear the hood and gown.”
The scholarship is available to students — juniors and seniors who are enrolled in an accredited college/university curriculum or those who are actively pursuing a master’s degree — with an interest in an non-attorney career in the legal industry. Each year, the scholarship awards up to $10,000.
Students can apply if they are studying a field like legal management, paralegal studies or another legal support function; have at least a 3.5 GPA; have demonstrated leadership ability; and participate in extracurricular activities and community service.
The Foundation can decide every year how many scholarships it gives out. Two were awarded for 2022, and there were three in 2021, according to Weigand. “There is no limit to how many scholarships can be awarded per year,” he says. “There is only a cap on the dollar amount budgeted.”
The requirements are simple: Scholarship recipients must continue in their course of study and create a video testimonial that discusses how the scholarship has helped them. The application process, however, is not so simple — and it’s designed that way.
“The application process is a fairly rigorous one,” says Weigand. “Applications are gathered by the Foundation’s ALA staff liaison, and any identifying information is redacted. A review committee comprised of Foundation Trustees reviews and recommends candidates to the entire Foundation Board for consideration after identifying the top candidates.”
“Recipients also receive a yearlong mentorship component with an ALA member, which allows them to lean on a more experienced professional, ask questions, seek guidance and connect with others in our industry. It’s really a win-win for us and them.”
The redactions are intended to reduce unconscious bias in the Trustees’ decision-making process, in line with the Foundation’s overall commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.
Recognizing that success isn’t just tied to monetary awards, the Trustees also included a mentoring component for recipients. “Recipients also receive a yearlong mentorship component with an ALA member, which allows them to lean on a more experienced professional, ask questions, seek guidance and connect with others in our industry,” says Weigand. “It’s really a win-win for us and them.”
For her part, Mahler pays it forward and serves as a Trustee for the Foundation, where she has since mentored another recipient. Having been a mentee herself, she knows how valuable it is. “HR is my passion,” she says. “I’ve been so fortunate to have worked with and been mentored by some incredible office administrators and HR directors. My goal is eventually to become an HR director.”
Taylor says that along with the financial assistance, the mentoring is a gratifying component of the scholarship. “[It’s] extremely beneficial. I am still relatively new to this field, so having the ability to reach out to someone who has extensive knowledge and experience in the field is invaluable.”
LIFTING UP STUDENTS — AND THE FUTURE OF LEGAL
Today, Mahler continues to be an example of why investing in education benefits the profession as a whole. She is a Regional Human Resources Manager in Dallas and Houston with BakerHostetler, and since winning the scholarship, she’s succeeded in earning her master’s degree and her Certified Legal Manager (CLM)® designation.
As the program gains momentum, spreading the word about the recipients’ successes also touches others who are looking for opportunities in the niche field of legal.
Right now, the Foundation is trying to get the word out about the scholarship. They are encouraging prospective applicants to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.
“I believe once we have a greater presence on college campuses [and] expand our social media reach, we will continue to grow the number of applications and be able to really see where this initiative will go,” says Cohen. “Our future fundraising successes will be a very big part of all of our initiatives and what we will be able to do.”
In the end, this is an effort that helps uplift the profession. “We are very proud to be a part of supporting that type of outcome where information and education can assist all of us with expanding our professional growth,” says Cohen.
Donating to the Foundation is an investment in efforts like these. (And if you’re reading this before May 18, 2022, bid on a silent auction item!) Your donation will be part of the over a quarter-million dollars in grants, programs and sponsorships aligned with the Foundation’s missions and goals throughout its 41 years. You can learn more about these efforts by visiting alanet.org/foundation.