Spotlight on pro bono: For the Public Good: A program to get high school students involved in the legal system
Everyone has heard the phrase, "get them young and train them." One usually thinks of this in terms of Olympic athletes who have been training since childhood, but the Third Circuit decided to try the concept with high-schoolers. The Madison County Internship Program was the brainchild of Jo Anna Pollock of the Simmons Firm. She proposed choosing students to shadow attorneys to visit courthouses or at depositions in addition to having their help with filing or office work. One of the goals of the program is to reach high school students from diverse backgrounds that are interested in careers in the legal field by pairing the students with volunteer attorneys for four weeks. In its first year, the program ran from June 4-June 29.
The students applied through their high schools. They filled out a written application asking about their interest in the law. Each applicant had to have two letters of recommendation and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Diverse backgrounds and no family connection to the law was a plus. Those who were chosen had to attend an orientation day to learn about the law. Part of the day included career planning advice from lawyers. In addition, they visited Judge Barb Crowder at the Madison County Courthouse where they were shown the technology available in the courtrooms and where Judge Crowder discussed various legal jobs. Then they toured the Criminal Justice Center where Judge Kyle Napp told them about criminal law and allowed the students to observe a short hearing. Finally, the orientation session concluded with a tour of the Madison County Jail.
Seven students were selected in conjunction with their schools. Samantha Wehrle from Civic Memorial in Bethalto partnered with Eric Terry from TorHoermanLaw, Madison Klope from Alton High School was placed with Jo Anna Pollock from the Simmons Firm, Jenna Smith of Granite City High School worked with Morgan Scroggins from Scroggins Law Office, Corinisha Barnes of Alton High School was placed with Brenda Baum at HeplerBroom, Evan Buenger from Alton High assisted Ben Schmickle from GoriJulian, Nick Harkey from Civic Memorial in Bethalto interned with Jane Unsell at Unsell & Schattnik, and Sterling Bram Coleman-Selby of Edwardsville High School worked with Jennifer Johnson at Heyl Royster.
By pairing the high school students with actual attorneys, they were able to see the tasks lawyers, paralegals, information technology aides and others do in the legal system. Besides receiving some on-the-job experience, they had a chance to meet attorneys and judges to feel more comfortable in the future. They were also able to see the lawyers they were paired with help real clients involved in actual legal disputes. The students and the lawyers enjoyed their four weeks together.
Madison County Bar Association President Angela Donohoo noted that this was the first year of this program so it started with a small number of students and law firms. Beginning next year, students from all high schools in Madison County will be eligible to apply and more attorneys will be recruited for those students to shadow. This program allows students to learn more about the legal field as they make decisions for future study. The Third Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee and the Madison County Bar Association realize that high school aged students may change their minds about their careers. Whether these young people were so well trained they definitely go into law or whether they only go into the future with a positive feeling about the legal system, the program will be a success.