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Early education efforts expose youth to various careers in law

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Harrison Ndife and his peers gathered at the end of a long week to kick back, talk shop and do a little networking.

A rising sophomore at Terre Haute South High School, Ndife had just completed the Summer Legal Institute along with 39 other eighth-graders and high-schoolers. They learned what it will take for them to become lawyers and where their place in the profession might be.
 

egaled-15col.jpg Ice Miller LLP attorney Jonathan Payne talks about careers with students, including Nostalgia Pitts, right, who visited the firm recently as part of the weeklong Indianapolis Summer Legal Institute program sponsored by Chicago-based Just the Beginning – A Pipeline Organization. (IL Photo/ Eric Learned)

“At first I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but I wasn’t sure,” Ndife said at the institute’s closing ceremony June 20 at Eli Lilly in Indianapolis. Ndife is sure now, after a week’s worth of instruction that immersed him in numerous aspects of the profession.

“Even if I didn’t like one part of the law, there are others I would like,” Ndife learned. He thinks he might like to be a public defender.

Chicago-based Just the Beginning – A Pipeline Organization presented the program as part of its mission to increase racial and economic diversity in the legal profession. Students visited law firms and federal court; heard from numerous lawyers, judges and law students; and honed their writing and speaking skills during sessions at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

The program is part of a growing effort to provide a glimpse into the profession to students who are just beginning to explore career options. In June, the Indianapolis Bar Association Paralegal Committee sponsored its third annual “Careers in Law” fair at the Gambold Preparatory Magnet High School on Indianapolis’ west side. That program looked at careers in the justice system that don’t require law school, as well as some that do.

Organizers of both events acknowledge most students will pursue careers other than law, but they say the skills students gain from such programs are valuable.

“It’s important to be a good writer, to think logically,” said attorney Douglas Hill, director of Hill Fulwider P.C., who presented a session on mediation to the Gambold students. “At this stage, maybe writing well is the most important thing – other than that, getting a broad education and trying to work hard and do well.”

Rising Park Tudor High School freshman Kathryn Ito’s takeaway from the Summer Legal Institute was that a career in law is possible. She said she wants to be a lawyer but realizes how tough it will be.

“The main thing I learned was just how far you can go if you keep pushing yourself,” Ito said. “You can do lots of amazing things.”

Habsa Nayamma, who will be a freshman at Indianapolis’ North Central High School in the fall, presented an appellate oral argument in a mock case involving a student search. Playfully named State v. Ben Lyon, the facts of the case involved discovery of drugs during a strip search following a tip that a student had a knife in a backpack. No knife was found, and there were questions about the propriety of the strip search.

“I think I’m going to be a lawyer,” Nayamma said after her immersive week with the institute. “I like the cases, and I like how the judges explained to us how they proceed.”

Helping out during the institute were numerous law students and undergrads pursuing pre-law studies who had been through the program themselves. Just the Beginning operates Summer Legal Institutes in several cities around country, mostly in the Midwest.

The organization says that in 2013, its summer programs served 314 youths. That year, 65 former program participants who are now in law school received summer internships with judges, five received post-graduate federal clerkships, and 15 received other internships.

Just the Beginning marketing and development director Mark Dinglasan said the organization traces its founding to 1992, when judges saw a need for a program that would promote diversity in the profession.

“We’re building an ecosystem of collaboration between corporate law firms and community organizations,” he said. “Every step of the way, we look for judges and attorneys who want to give back and uplift these young people.”

Julian Harrell, a Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP associate who mentored students during the program, said he was impressed by their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. He said the program’s commitment to helping students is apparent. “It’s a pipeline organization dedicated to changing the landscape of the legal community,” Harrell said.

“They can take these skills with them anywhere,” he said of what students learned during the institute.

Taft partner Thomas A. Barnard said law firms and corporations with a commitment to promoting diversity sponsor the institute because they see its promise. “Just the Beginning will help these kids at every step of their professional development,” Barnard said.

At the institute’s closing ceremony, Krystle McNeely, a rising 2L at Northern Illinois University School of Law, shared the lessons she learned years back going through the institute. She stressed that grades matter, and so do activities outside the classroom. That’s true for college as well as law school.

“Do something to let colleges see that you’re a serious student, you’re a balanced person,” McNeely advised students. “Show them that you are going to add to their school.”

Bose McKinney & Evans LLP paralegal Julia Kleinschmidt chairs the IndyBar committee that hosted the Careers in Law event June 11. She said the program aims to instruct students beyond what’s needed to become a lawyer and also “teach kids what is needed to run our justice system.”

This year, in addition to hearing from attorneys, the event looked at 12 careers that don’t require law degrees, such as court reporters, clerks, bailiffs and trial technology experts, Kleinschmidt said.

Professionals who presented talked about how much education was needed for their careers and the kinds of skills needed to succeed. “The value is in presenting the kids with an experience they can relate to,” she said.

But the programs also realize that students are a long way from law school, so part of the mission is to focus on what students can do now. Kleinschmidt said part of the advice is that if students don’t know whether they want a career related to law, that’s OK. There are still some things that apply.

“Don’t close your doors. All these different things are available, and if you work hard in school and don’t get in trouble, then you haven’t barred any careers when you figure it out,” she said.•

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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