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Midyear 2014: TIPS lawyers encourage students to consider career in the law

Midyear 2014: TIPS lawyers encourage students to consider career in the law

By John Glynn

In the face of recent concerns surrounding the future of legal education and the legal profession, a group of American Bar Association lawyers is reaching out to middle school, high school and law school students to answer their questions about the field of law and encourage them to enter the profession.

Middle school component:
Feb. 6, Noon - 2:30 p.m. 

High school component:
Feb. 7, 12:20 - 1:20 p.m. 

Law school component:
Feb. 6, 3:30 - 5 p.m.

#ABAMidyear

The Educational Awareness Project, created by members of the ABA Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section, aims to serve as “a long-lasting outreach program in an effort to give back to the community and to serve, support and enhance the legal profession,” according to project Chair Patricia Hughes, an attorney at Allstate Insurance Co. in Michigan, and Kathy Strickland, chair of the TIPS Public Relations Committee and a partner at Ropers, Majeski, Kohn & Bentley in California. “We wanted a program that could continue year after year and leave a lasting impression on future attorneys.”

The project contains three parts: middle school, high school and law school. For each group, organizers plan outreach events with schools in cities where TIPS is holding section meetings. For the middle and high school students, organizers arrange programs focused on the theme “A Day in the Life of an Attorney.” At the law school level, students from local schools can attend a panel in which TIPS members discuss their practice as it relates to tort trial and insurance law. Then the law students are invited to a networking reception to make useful connections.

At the ABA Midyear Meeting in Chicago, the project will host three events:

  • Middle school component: Noon – 2:30 p.m. Feb. 6, Edward Burke Elementary School (K-8), 5365 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
  • High school component: 12:20 - 1:20 p.m. Feb. 7, UIC College Prep, LSV Campus of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, 1231 S. Damen Ave.
  • Law school component: 3:30 – 5 p.m. Feb. 6, Swissotel, 323 E. Upper Wacker Drive

The goals of the Educational Awareness Project are to address the declining enrollment of students in degree programs, help students identify career options within law, encourage diverse and underprivileged students or those with disabilities to consider a career in law, and provide role models that students can identify with.

Dan Acosta, coordinator for the program’s middle school component and in-house counsel for Farmers Insurance Exchange in New Mexico, said he become involved after reading an article about the decreasing number of women applying to law school. “The article suggested that students as early as middle school begin developing career goals,” he said. “As the father of a middle school daughter, I thought this would be a great place to start talking to students about becoming a lawyer.”

Next week’s middle school program is the first one for the project, and Acosta said he expects about 40 students and 12 TIPS volunteers to participate. They plan to discuss what lawyers do, the history of lawyers in America and the different types of practice, he said.

“We are targeting middle schools with an underserved and diverse population,” Acosta said. “It is important that students see that lawyers also come from all walks of life. It is important that we as lawyers serve as role models and encourage students to want to be lawyers.”

Erika Anderson, coordinator for the high school component and an attorney at French & Associates in New Mexico, said that at the first high school event last year, a panel of six attorneys presented to four classes of about 25 students each at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis. For this year’s Chicago program, she said a panel of seven attorneys will talk at an assembly of 50 to 60 students.

“The students have been engaged and have asked several questions about how to prepare for law school and the admission process,” Anderson said. “The students also want to know what to expect in a typical day if they become an attorney.”

After starting with only a dozen students at its first event, the law school component is growing. Its Minneapolis event last year attracted about 30 students, and organizers expect a similar number at the upcoming program in Chicago. Besides TIPS lawyers, law school faculty members and staff members and outside speakers have participated in the law student events.

“By reaching out to students at the middle school, high school and law school levels, we are not only educating them and encouraging them to consider a career in the law, but also introducing them to the American Bar Association and TIPS and what is and will be a great resource for them,” according to Hughes and Strickland.

In that way, the program also benefits the ABA and TIPS, giving them exposure in communities and schools. It also encourages lawyers to give back to the legal profession and their communities and gives the public a good impression of lawyers, Anderson said.

“The reputation of our profession is key to our success,” Acosta said. “Having TIPS members leading the effort to increase the ranks of lawyers one student at a time will serve our profession well. We need to go out to our communities and encourage our students to think about the practice of law and to believe that no matter where they come from, they can be successful.”

He added that the project coordinators are seeking to partner with law firms or local bar associations in the cities in which they host programs in order to establish a formal mentoring program for students to “keep the momentum we hope to establish alive and to leave a footprint with all the schools we visit.”

Educational Awareness Project organizers are in the process of planning similar presentations during the TIPS Spring Meeting in May in Boca Raton, Fla., and during the ABA Annual Meeting in August in Boston.

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