How to Participate in “Bullyproof,” This Year’s Public Service Project

Vol. 39 No. 3

By

Justin C. Sensing is an Assistant Editor of The Affiliate and an Associate with the Clarksville, Tennessee, firm of Phillips Law PLLC.

Bullying is an old problem that has developed a modern twist, one that is taking an increasingly significant toll on our nation’s youth. It occurs when a person engages in a pattern of repeated abuse that uses his or her access to power (e.g., popularity, strength, embarrassing information, and so on) to intimidate those lacking such power. In addition to the resources available from the Bullyproof initiative’s homepage (listed below), a wealth of information—including what bullying is and what it is not—is available at www.stopbullying.gov. While bullying often takes the form of verbal abuse, threats, or even outright violence, it may also consist of deliberate rumor mongering or ostracizing. It is something we each have likely encountered at some point, both as children and adults. A case-in-point is the sad, but typical case of Jeffrey Norkin, a Florida attorney recently suspended for “incessantly” berating his 71 year old, cancer-stricken opposing counsel. For those interested, see Debra Cassens Weiss, Lawyer Who “Incessantly” Disparaged Opposing Counsel Gets Two-Year Suspension, ABA Journal (Nov. 25, 2013, 6:15 a.m.), available at www.abajournal.com/news/article/lawyer_who_incessantly_disparaged_opposing_counsel_gets_two-year_suspension.

Judging by the ideals against which many of us judge ourselves (Atticus Finch comes to mind), many law degrees owe their existence to the sense of injustice—and desire to fight against it—that such conduct inspires in us. Unfortunately, it turns out that we lawyers often arrive too late, after the damage has occurred, and attempt to make our clients whole. Equally unfortunate are the current statistics on school-aged bullying. For example, the majority of all U.S. students have witnessed bullying in their schools, which reportedly harbor 2.1 million bullies and 2.7 million of their victims. It results in 282,000 attacks among high school students each month, an annualized amount equaling nearly 50% of all violent crime that the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in 2012. See Bureau of Justice Stat., U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Criminal Victimization, 2012, at 2 tbl.1 (Oct. 24, 2013), available at www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4781. It forces over 160,000 students to stay home from school each day in a desperate attempt to escape, an effort that social media has made progressively impossible.

Take the Initiative

Indeed, we have all seen stories in the news about teenagers driven to suicide over persistent harassment and degradation at school and online. It has become enough of a social phenomenon to prompt an addition to our lexicon: cyberbullying. Clearly, we can and must do something more than throw our hands up and say, “What can you do? Bullying is just rite of passage. Kids will be kids, after all.” The situation demands a proactive approach; it demands outreach to students, parents, and educators focused on providing tools to prevent bullying before it occurs, as well as tools to mitigate its effects when it does occur. Victims need to know their rights and how to exercise them, bullies need to see their conduct both for what it is and what it does, and the responsible adults need to know what duties they owe to the children in their care—legal and otherwise—and best practices in discharging them. We need to do our part as talented advocates and natural advisors by taking the initiative on this issue.

ABA YLD Chair Mario Sullivan has therefore named “Bullyproof: Young Lawyers Educating and Empowering to End Bullying” as the Division’s 2013–2014 Public Service Project. The project has already received support and acknowledgment from a number of public figures, ranging from Black Eyed Peas’ producer Printz Board to President Obama. It comprises three general pillars:

  1. an organized outreach effort to students, parents, and educators designed to discuss the problem of bullying and to provide ways to recognize, prevent, and defuse it;
  2. programming and support for young lawyers interested in or already providing legal services to schools, students, or even bullies; and
  3. assistance and information to young lawyers and others seeking to enact policies and legislation to combat bullying and cyberbullying.

Reach Out

If you are interested in reaching out to your local community, then you should thank Bullyproof Co-Coordinators Roula Allouch and Elizabeth Palmer who have made it exceedingly easy for you to present Bullyproof programming at local schools. They have put together a toolkit (available below) that guides you through the entire process, from your first inquiry with local schools to the last handout you provide students. It consists of

  • a sample letter you can send to local schools inquiring about their interest in the Bullyproof presentation,
  • a guide/FAQ that answers many of your questions about the presentation and how to conduct it,
  • a script you can use to guide your presentation,
  • assessment forms you can use to gather information from students for teachers to use in fighting bullying,
  • a nifty video you can show students about bullying,
  • a trivia game you can play with students to determine what they have learned about bullying, and
  • a “know-your-rights” handout you can give students at the conclusion of your presentation.

With Roula and Elizabeth having already laid most of the groundwork for you, organizing and delivering this presentation should take you, at most, three or four hours. The presentation itself lasts about an hour, depending on your delivery.

Participate

Therefore, you have a number of excellent reasons to participate in this year’s public service project and, thanks to Roula and Elizabeth, few good reasons not to participate. So with the recent holiday season as your theme, why not reach out on the topic of peace and goodwill? If you need further incentive, why not generate some free publicity and build a reputation in your town as the attorney or group of attorneys who helps out school children? Even if you cannot participate directly, why not at least take a moment to spread the word to colleagues who you think might be interested? For more information on the project, including how to spread the word:

  1. Visit the Bullyproof homepage at www.americanbar.org/groups/young_lawyers/initiatives/anti_bullying_initiative.html. Here you will find a wealth of resources to assist you in participating in this initiative in whatever capacity you are interested and able to pursue, whether you are an attorney, a parent, an educator, or all three.
  2. You can like the project on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ABAbullyproof) and follow the project on Twitter (@ABA_Bullyproof). Here you can find photos of past events, get updates about the project, connect with other interested people in your area, and help publicize the project to your friends and followers.
  3. If you have any additional questions or comments, you can email the project’s co-coordinators, Roula Allouch (rallouch@smithrolfes.com) and Elizabeth Palmer (epalmer@rrhlawfirm.com), or the project’s program associate, Renee Lugo (renee.lugo@americanbar.org).

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