University of Akron Newsroom: Future legal eagles start early at UA
7/9/14 -- Kerry Holmes has yet to graduate from high school, but he’s already completed an internship in a law office, putting him one step closer to his goal of becoming a lawyer.
The Firestone High School senior is one of 60 local high school students currently being hosted on campus by The University of Akron School of Law for the Law and Leadership Institute’s (LLI) summer academic program.
“Two years ago I interned at Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs,” recalls Holmes. “I got to meet all the people, talk to the paralegals, and even debate with attorneys on Obama’s health care act.”
Increasing diversity in legal field
The LLI is a statewide initiative in collaboration with the legal community that prepares students from underserved communities for college and professional success through a four-year academic program in law, leadership, analytical thinking, writing and professionalism.
The goal of the program is to increase diversity in law school and in the legal profession.
“In order to effectively represent all the people, the legal profession must strive to be as diverse as the people we represent,” says attorney Edward Gilbert, former president of the Akron/Canton Barristers Association, a group of predominately African-American judges and attorneys. “To achieve this goal we start with the young. The Law and Leadership program strives to produce leaders; leaders become lawyers.”
This is the sixth year in which UA has been one of the six sites hosting the LLI program (including sites in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo). The LLI, the Ohio and Akron Bar Foundations, and the United Way provide the funding.
The students at UA’s camp — most of them from Akron Public Schools, Barberton High School and Coventry High School — move through the four-year program in cohorts, taking classes led by UA law students, hearing guest speakers, going on field trips and working as legal interns.
Students entering the ninth grade spend five weeks learning about the court system, criminal procedure, constitutional rights and the appeals process. Guest speakers include local attorneys, judges, entrepreneurs and professors. On July 24, the freshmen will participate in a mock trial at the Akron Municipal Court.
“You actually felt like you were a lawyer,” says Jaden Hescht, a sophomore at Barberton High School, recalling last year’s mock trial.
The students, who are instructed in professional etiquette, say they are held to high expectations and given great respect.
“The teachers treat you like a professional,” says Tabitha Meers, a freshman at Akron Early College High School on UA’s campus. “You have a voice that matters. Your opinions are challenged more often, and you have to know both sides of a case.”
During their four-week session, sophomores learn about civil law, with topics ranging from civil rights to freedom of speech and consumer law. They spend their final week interning at a local law firm, corporate legal department or public sector law office.
Holmes and other upperclassmen are spending their three-week session focused on college preparation. They are polishing resumes, visiting colleges and universities, and meeting with counselors and advisers. On July 11, they will participate in a mock trial at UA’s School of Law at 9:30 a.m.
Access = success
“The program is as much about getting them ready for college as it is introducing them to law as a career,” says Joann Sahl, director of the program at UA. “Most of our students are first generation. We are giving them access to all college has to offer, and exposing them to the idea that they can succeed in college.”
Students continue in the LLI program throughout the academic year, meeting on several Saturdays throughout the fall and spring semesters to build upon the skills gained during the summer.
“You learn important skills no matter what field you’re going into,” notesAriana Davis, a sophomore at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. “I don’t want to be a lawyer, but we all use law skills, like public speaking and enunciation, reading and writing. These are skills that make you a better citizen overall.”
Story by Nicholas Nussan -- 7-9-14