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Do you remember what you thought of lawyers when you were in high school? Some of us already had designs on joining the legal profession back then. For others of us, the "attorney in the classroom" was just - to quote an old headline from the satirical newspaper The Onion - "Some Dork Brought in to Address Civics Class."
No matter how disquieting the resemblance between law school and high school, even the youngest young lawyer has been away from the real thing for several years. But sixteen million students tough it out in America's high school classrooms year to year, and a great number of them will either have a lawyer, be a lawyer, or deal with a lawyer at some point in their lives. Those that won't will watch a friend or family member navigate the justice system or see attorneys portrayed on TV. Nearly all will form some opinion of our profession, and if the results of a July 2006 Harris Poll hold, some 68% will not trust lawyers.
When you became a lawyer you became a "public citizen," say the ABA's Model Rules of Professional Conduct, with a responsibility for improving the public's confidence in the justice system. Reaching out to high school students can be a fun and highly effective part of meeting your responsibility. Dwight Smith, who chairs both the ABA's Commission on Youth at Risk and its Standing Committee on Public Education, says that many groups tell him stories of how "just one lawyer, volunteering just a little time, made a huge impact on some young person's life."
Whatever and wherever you practice, here are three fundamentals for making the most of high school volunteering:
"A world of need and opportunity awaits," reports Smith, the Youth at Risk and Public Education chair. "I urge young lawyers everywhere to make a difference by sharing your particular insights and gifts with high school students and other youth who desperately need positive role models."
About the Author
Ritchie Eppink is legal aid lawyer in Boise, Idaho primarily handling housing cases. Ritchie also works with domestic violence victims on family law issues.