Nick Welle Partner, business lawyer Foley & Lardner LLP Nonprofit served: Street Law Legal Diversity Pipeline Program, in partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee Service: Coordinator
Over the course of the spring semester, students from Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee have the opportunity to try their hand at practicing law in the top office of Milwaukee’s tallest building.
Foley & Lardner LLP hosts students over six weeks in its 40th-floor downtown office as part of the Street Law Legal Diversity Pipeline Program, a partnership with BGCGM designed to expose high school students from low-income families and diverse backgrounds to the legal profession.
Nick Welle, a business lawyer and partner at Foley, coordinates the program, acting as a liaison between the firm and BGCGM and helping recruit about 25 lawyers, both those from within and outside of Foley, to volunteer as mentors.
Welle had the idea several years ago to bolster the firm’s existing Street Law program and build it into a “mini law school,” including a six-week program culminating in a mock trial. The first week is dedicated to teaching students about contract law; after that, students get hands-on experience.
“We say, ‘OK, we’ve given you the tools, we’ve given you the techniques, we’ve given you the law – now it’s your turn to put on your attorney hat,” Welle said.
One exercise divides the group of students in two – half representing a fictitious NBA player looking to develop his own shoe brand, the other half representing the shoe company. The challenge is for them to negotiate a contract, with volunteer attorneys serving as coaches.
The program culminates in a mock investigation into an allegation of workplace sexual harassment.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the program hosted about 50 students; this year, the program is expected to have 25 students, mostly juniors and seniors who plan to pursue legal studies.
At the end of the program, students can apply and interview to become paid interns at Foley and receive mentorship as they enter college. Prior to the pandemic, Foley hired three interns coming out of the program. The ultimate goal is to have students pursue law and return to Foley as associates after graduation from law school.
“The only reason this works is because the students are so active and they want to learn, they participate and they’re eager to learn and they want to have an internship,” Welle said. “It’s great to work with the club and see the kids really thrive.”
Welle personally stays in touch with Street Law grads, providing letters of recommendation, going out to lunch with them and mentoring them through their college and internship decisions.
The first intern to be hired through Foley’s program, Brandon Pope, completed his political science degree at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in under four years, graduated in December and is now a legal assistant at Foley with plans to attend law school.
“That was a really cool moment for me,” Welle said. “I won’t be fully satisfied until one of our Street Law alumni comes back as a lawyer at Foley, but it’s a nice stepping stone.”