Since 1958, May 1 has been designated as Law Day and celebrated by the American Bar Association and by bar associations, judicial systems, and other law-related organizations across the country. For 2019, the theme was “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society.” Here’s a look at how some bars marked the occasion.
Exploring the science of happiness
In a novel departure from the theme, the Palm Beach County (Fla.) Bar Association welcomed New York University Professor Alan Schlecter as its Law Day keynote speaker, on the topic of the science of happiness, with particular focus on lawyers. Based on the latest research on happiness and well-being, Dr. Schlecter (who is also a psychiatrist) told attendees that both stem from interpersonal relationships and from having people with whom to share experiences, and not from the amount of money one makes.
A pathway to law practice
The Lafayette (La.) Bar Association stretched the theme by calling a pipeline event for college students “Freedom in Practice.” The bar’s Law Day committee put together a panel of two judges and four attorneys, all with experience in different areas of practice. Students from a local university and community college who were interested in a law career met in a courtroom for lunch, the panel discussion (in which panelists shared their journey from student to lawyer and/or judge), and a Q&A. LBA Marketing Coordinator Katelyn Guidry says the bar plans to expand on this event next year.
Art and essay contests
These are a perennial favorite for Law Day celebrations, but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same or can’t be given a new twist.
For the Utah State Bar, the “Art and the Law” competition, sponsored by the Salt Lake County Bar Association, is a staple. What makes it a little different, says Matthew Page, the communications director at the Utah bar, is what happens to the winning entries after they are displayed at the Law Day lunch.
“The pieces are auctioned off and purchased by law firms and judges,” he notes, “and many hang prominently in law office and judicial chambers around the state.”
This year, the Brevard County (Fla.) Bar Association added a new category to its poster and essay contest: best lesson plan by a teacher. The winning teacher won a $100 cash prize, a balloon ribbon, and recognition at the bar’s Law Day dinner. Bar member E. Ashley Hardee notes that the winner, Jasmine Oxley of Viera Charter School, submitted a lesson plan in which her students made banners using various phrases and terms and then consulted the Constitution to see if they qualified as free speech.
For the York County (Pa.) Bar Foundation, innovation was as simple as changing the middle school design contest from a bumper sticker to a bookmark. The first, second, and third place designs were made into bookmarks and also printed on labels for candy bars that were distributed at the Law Day luncheon, says Chief Executive Officer Victoria A. Connor. (Connor is also CEO of the York County Bar Association; both organizations observed Law Day in a variety of ways.) The winners received certificates and Amazon gift cards in the amounts of $100, $75, and $50, respectively.
To distribute the bookmarks, the bar foundation developed a relationship with York County Libraries and the United Way of York County’s Reading Ready Corners program, which sets up reading areas in various locations (one of which, in the courthouse self-help center, is sponsored by the foundation). Instead of the usual 200 bumper stickers (which, Connor says, “no one uses”), the foundation printed 15,000 bookmarks—enough for all participants in the libraries’ summer reading programs, and enough for the winner’s school to receive 1,000 to distribute.
The bookmark doubles as a marketing piece, Connor notes: The reverse side features the phone number for the bar’s lawyer referral service, which shared the 14-cents-each printing expense.
Spending time with lawyers and judges
The Dallas Bar Association’s Law Day luncheon drew around 300 attendees this year, including students who had earned prizes for their essays and artwork, and one teacher and parent per student. “The students really enjoyed meeting our keynote speaker, Judge Karen Gren Scholer,” notes Jessica D. Smith, the bar’s communications and media director, and editor of its Headnotes publication.
In addition to art and essay contests, this year, the Legal Related Education Super Committee of the Arkansas Bar Association conducted another contest for Arkansas high school students, called “Spend a Day with a Judge.” The day began with a breakfast and award presentation at a law firm in Little Rock, after which the winning students traveled to their individual judges' locations to spend the day.
Meanwhile, the Rhode Island Bar Association continued its tradition of bringing lawyers and judges into schools on Law Day—and this year saw a record number of presentations, with 40 schools and a total of 64 classrooms participating. Fifty-two attorneys, 50 state court judges, and five municipal or probate court judges joined attorney-judge teams put together by the bar. The bar’s director of communications, Kathleen M. Bridge, notes that seven new schools signed up this year after President Carolyn R. Barone sent a letter urging more schools to participate.
The Iowa State Bar Association’s Public Relations Committee added a local focus to the Law Day theme in its panel discussion for a middle school Boys & Girls Club. The speakers addressed student First Amendment rights in school, with particular focus on the landmark 1965 case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.
Making a week of it
Some bars turn Law Day into Law Week, with activities over multiple days. Noteworthy programs at the Monroe County (N.Y.) Bar Association included a student awards ceremony; a CLE program on racial profiling, which was open to the public; a CLE program called The First Amendment, The News & Telling Your Story in 2019, which the bar streamed live on Facebook; and a program called “Off the Record: Media and the Courts.”
The Oklahoma Bar Association’s celebrations always include public service and information, in the form of an "Ask A Lawyer" show on public television (viewed by about 50,000 people this year), and a time during which OBA members offer free legal advice by phone and email. On May 2, 196 lawyers answered 1,342 phone calls and 371 emails, across 24 different counties. Volunteers donated 446.5 hours and approximately $66,975 in terms of the value of their billable hours.
What’s next? 19th Amendment centennial celebrations
For many with an interest in civic education, civil rights, and legal history, 2020 will be a big year, as bar associations and others mark the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the constitutional right to vote. The ABA Division for Public Education has put together a clearinghouse of information on the celebrations that will take place across the country, as well as a message from President-elect Judy Perry Martinez, details about a traveling exhibit, and the time and place for a panel discussion to be held at Annual Meeting in San Francisco this August. Watch for a video and more content to be added soon—and don't forget to add information about any celebrations that your bar has planned!