VOL. 124 | NO. 103 | Thursday, May 28, 2009
Higgins Co-Chairs MBA’s Award-Winning Internship Program
By Rebekah Hearn
Firm: Higgins and Johnson
Basics: Higgins, who is a co-chair of the Diversity Committee of the Memphis Bar Association, has been instrumental in its High School Summer Law Intern Program.
“It’s just a lot of hands-on, trying to help them develop as they go into the next arena, because honestly, they just don’t get a lot of that, and they need it.”
– Gina Higgins
Gina Higgins, an attorney at Higgins and Johnson, is a co-chair of the Diversity Committee of the Memphis Bar Association. Higgins chairs the committee with Linda Jew Mathis, an attorney at Golden & Mathis, and Ruby Wharton, principal at The Wharton Law Firm. Wharton also sits on the 2009 MBA board of directors.
Higgins received her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Memphis and her juris doctorate from the U of M Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. She served in the U.S. Navy after law school.
Higgins is a member of the MBA, the Leo Bearman American Inns of Court, the American Bar Association, the American Trial Lawyers Association, the Association for Women Attorneys and the Association of Minority Women Attorneys. She also is the immediate-past president of the Ben F. Jones Chapter of the National Bar Association.
The MBA’s Diversity Committee oversees the bar’s High School Summer Law Intern Program, which offers high school minority students the chance to apply for a summer internship at a local law firm. The ABA recently honored the MBA with a 2009 ABA Partnership Award for initiating this program.
Q: As a co-chair of the Diversity Committee, how did you encourage this internship program?
A: The year that Amy Amundsen was president of the Memphis bar, she had all these ideas and designs as to what she wanted to do. Amy is perhaps the busiest, most energetic person you’ll ever meet in your life. She just has (so) much energy. Well, she … probably had about 20 different committees, and one of those was the Diversity Committee. She (supported) the Diversity Committee taking over the minority high school program. So what we did was just go out and start knocking on (lawyers’ doors), asking them if they would support the program. And what we found was just overwhelming support from the legal community.
Q: What ages of students will you accept into the program?
A: Last year, we were looking at generally (ages) 14-17 and a few 18-year-olds. But because we had so many, we had to cut back, so we were only looking not so much at age this time but at being a rising junior or a rising senior. So you had to be in the 11th grade or the 12th grade this coming August to apply (this year). We weren’t taking any (high school) graduates this year, and we didn’t do repeat students. Now, if you applied last year and you didn’t get picked up, you could certainly re-apply, but if you were in the program last year, you could not re-apply for this year.
Q: How are interns assigned to a law office?
A: For the most part, if children indicated what their interest was, we tried to hook them up and do that. Some kids expressed an interest in, for example, discrimination law, so we tried to put them with the attorneys at the (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).
Q: Besides meeting judges and learning about law school admissions, in what other activities do the students participate?
A: Last year, we did an etiquette class with them. We brought in a person who can have sessions with them with regard to how they need to comport themselves, the matter in which they dress, talk, their e-mails – like, your e-mail address should not be “onehotcookie” – that’s not the kind of e-mail you want to send to a business environment. So it’s just a lot of hands-on, trying to help them develop as they go into the next arena, because honestly, they just don’t get a lot of that, and they need it.
Q: What role has the U of M law school played in the internship program?
A: Some of the (law school faculty) are on the Diversity Committee; they’re a part of the interviewing, because they have a particular expertise in that area. We have at least two or three of them that are really involved. They talk to the parents, they talk to the kids, and they give them an idea as to what happens after the next four years – after they leave undergraduate (school) and they’re getting ready to come into law school. And they also track our students, so they sign them up and say, “Hey, look, we’re going to be there, we’re going to keep feeding you information as you go through undergrad, so if you’re interested in law school, you’ll already have a lot of the ammunition you need to get into law school; you’ll know what we’re looking for, and you’ll be prepared.” I think it’s absolutely wonderful what they’re doing.