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. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.