In the beginning it was an informal initiative designed to provide unpaid internships, introducing law students to the inner workings of the courts. The brainchild of Boston Municipal Court Judge Robert Tochka, the program helped provided needed assistance to the trial courts during a time marked by funding cuts and staff layoffs.
Over time, Judge Tochka made an effort to reach out to more law students, providing them with the opportunity to volunteer their time to him, observe courtroom proceedings and enhance their legal research and writing skills. Word of the program began to spread and other BMC judges were eager to become involved.
In 2010, the BBA Diversity and Inclusion Section heard of this internship program and saw it as a unique opportunity for the BBA to use its resources to help expand and formalize this project as a modest but important step towards providing diverse law students with valuable mentoring and professional experience, and supporting the courts.
By the spring of 2011, the BBA Diversity and Inclusion Section conducted extensive outreach to career services offices at Boston law schools to recruit candidates who could benefit from semester long internships, and helped place students with judges.
Fast forward to the May 15, 2012 meeting of the BBA governing Council. . .
Following a presentation by BBA Diversity Section Co-Chair and Choate, Hall & Stewart partner, Macey Russell, the BBA Council voted to partner with the BMC to formalize this initiative for the purpose of helping to retain a diverse and inclusive population of young lawyers here in Boston.
Students are required to work 15 hours per week, with one day being in court. In addition to completing assigned tasks from their judge, they are required to work on the Massachusetts Case Summaries blog which summarizes important Massachusetts cases.
The next session will begin in the fall; applications will be accepted in August. Interested participants are encouraged to contact Susan Helm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-778-1984.
PILP member Emily Hodge speaking to a third grade class at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School
Walking into the Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood, a visitor is struck by the sheer amount of colors in the building. The hallways are awash in a bright and cheerful orange. Student drawings and elaborate crafts hang from the walls. Green plants line the window sill as a reminder of yesterday’s science lesson. There is no shortage of evidence that the Quincy School is an active and lively institution.
Emily and the students discuss the concept of “justice.”
This week, the students and educators of the Quincy School and other Boston Public Schools opened their doors to BBA lawyer-volunteers for the Law Day in the Schools program. The program is a Boston Bar Foundation-funded public service initiative that began in 1986 – to introduce legal concepts and ideals to students. Guided by the theme, “No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom,” students participated in a mock trial designed to focus on due process and ensuring access to the justice system. With the assistance of volunteers, the students assumed the roles of the victim, the accused, law enforcement, prosecutor and defense counsel.
Students listen attentively as Emily speaks about the justice system in America
I arrived at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School for a Law Day class with Ms. Yang’s third grade class, and was escorted to the classroom by two bright and bubbly girls who had a lot of questions about being a lawyer. One said she wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up – and also a fashion designer and a dentist. When I arrived in the classroom there was a lot of activity and energy. We began our Law Day discussion talking about what a lawyer or attorney is, and what they do. Almost all of the students knew what a lawyer was, some knew a few lawyers personally, and a couple of the students were sure they wanted to become lawyers when they grow up. We talked about what “justice” means, and the students offered up the following adjectives: fair, equal, liberty. Every student was engaged and enthusiastic. I encouraged the students to think about why we have a justice system, and about the role that lawyers might play in that system. The students offered up great ideas and were clearly thinking hard about the justice system and the role of lawyers.
We turned to the fact pattern, and reviewed it together as a group. The students were buzzing with comments about whether Tomika really could have taken Maria’s book bag. Most students seemed to think Tomika was innocent, but others noted, “what about the fact that her locker was locked with the bag inside?” We split into groups, and everyone had a lot to say about their roles – some were excited, and others found it hard to think about the case from a point of view they didn’t agree with. Each of the groups had energetic discussions about what their arguments would be, and every one of the group representatives made compelling arguments. It was incredible to watch the students argue their positions – one, who played Tomika, adamantly asserted that Maria had accused her simply because her brother was in jail and the girls were no longer friends, which was “just not fair.” Another stepped up without any notes and delivered the position of the police officer in a clear and confident voice, asserting that the bag was found in Tomika’s locked locker, so it made sense to accuse her. Some students thought very creatively about the case and really worked to make the best arguments they could for their positions. The defendant and her counsel each decided that the true explanation for the theft of Maria’s backpack was that Katie, the accuser, had framed Tomika – that Katie had watched Tomika enter the combination to her locker and gone back later to put Maria’s bag inside!
Participating in Law Day was a great way to step outside the daily practice of law and take part in educating young students about the role that the law, justice and lawyers might play in their own lives. Each of the students seemed to think hard about what it might mean to participate in a case like this one, and how important it was to have a process and a system in place to ensure that every voice was heard. Listening to the students’ thoughts about justice and our legal system was fascinating, and it was rewarding and inspiring to see how energized the students were about vigorously defending each of their positions.
A Snapshot of the Boston Public Schools:
The BPS consists of 125 schools
57,000 students are enrolled in the BPS
78% of BPS students are eligible to receive free and reduced-priced meals in school
53% of students are eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
43% of students speak a language other than English as their first language
BPS students come from more than 110 countries and speak 77 different languages
On Saturday, April 21st, 25 volunteers organized by the BBA’s New Lawyers Section joined in an effort to clean up the banks of the Charles River. This event ties in with the BBA’s Task Force on Environmental Sustainability, a group charged with expanding the BBA’s public service capacity to include volunteer opportunities that benefit the environment. To read more about the work of the Task Force, please visit The Sustainable Lawyer, the BBA’s blog dedicated to issues of environmental sustainability.
The event, coordinated by the Charles River Watershed Association, marked the 13th Annual Earth Day Charles River Cleanup. It’s estimated that some 4,000 volunteers from Milford to Boston removed 15-20 tons of rubbish from alongside the River and the surrounding areas.
BBA Members Gather to Volunteer for the 13th AnnualCharles River Clean Up.
Under the leadership of alums from the BBA’s Public Interest Leadership Program (PILP), the BBA is gearing up for the annual Law Day in the Schools Program scheduled to be held on May 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Funded by the Boston Bar Foundation , this public service initiative began in 1986 — to celebrate Law Day and to introduce students to both the legal profession and the role the law has played in shaping our constitutional democracy.
Through this interactive civics program, lawyers donate time to visit classrooms throughout city, teaching elementary, middle school and high school students and leading mock trials focusing on constitutional issues.
The theme for 2012 will be “No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom.” The exercise provided to volunteers will focus on due process and ensuring access to the criminal justice system amid growing state budget constraints. A highlight of the 2012 curriculum developed by the PILP alums will be a mock trial involving stolen property. Students will play the role of the victim, the accused, law enforcement, prosecutor and defense counsel.
Volunteers aim to teach the lesson within a class period, but are flexible to the teacher’s schedules. The BBA provides volunteers with all the written materials for the Program. The commitment for the Program — including preparation, travel and teaching time– is no more than six hours.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, we will be hosting a training on April 24, 2012. To RSVP, please click here.
We would like to thank the following Public Interest Leadership Program alumni for their valuable assistance in developing the Program: