MassMutual Program Introduces Students to Law Careers

Priming the Pump

Summer Legal Institute

From left, Summer Legal Institute student Zachary Fernandes consults with MassMutual attorneys David Allen and Bernadette Harrigan.

Bullying and cyberbullying are pertinent issues for teens today, and this summer 40 students in the Summer Legal Institute at MassMutual played the role of an attorney and presented arguments for clients during a mock court trial. Some won awards, but they all gained valuable insights into the law as they worked with local attorneys and were given opportunities to hone their networking, critical-thinking, and public-speaking skills.

Nia Major used to get really nervous when she met someone new and had to talk with them.

But after completing a week-long Summer Legal Institute session (SLI) at MassMutual last month, the 15-year-old from Sabis International Charter School in Springfield gained so much confidence that she was named a grand-prize winner in an oral-argument competition, where she played the role of a lawyer in a mock case that involved name-calling and cyberbullying.

“Now I can look new people in the eye and discuss things,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she was surprised at how well she did in the competition.

Major’s opinion of careers in the law field also expanded as a result of her participation in SLI, and although she wants to become a pediatrician, she now finds the legal profession an appealing option.

The teen was one of 40 students recruited from local schools to take part in the program last month, which is in its fourth year.

Since its inception, MassMutual has provided more than $100,000 to fund the SLI, which is free to all students. In addition, its attorneys have given more than 250 hours of their time to educate participants about the legal profession and help them hone their arguments for the annual competition.

Major and three winning peers will travel to Washington, D.C. this fall to take part in a national program held by Just the Beginning Foundation (JTB), a nonprofit that offers students free educational programming in hopes of increasing diversity in the legal profession and inspiring underrepresented, underserved, and at-risk students to attend college.

Mark Roelling told BusinessWest he decided to establish the Springfield branch five years ago after he met with Judge Ann Williams from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago during a meeting of the National Bar Assoc.

Roelling is executive vice president and chief legal counsel at MassMutual, and Williams told him about the JTB, which she helped create in response to a speech by former President Jimmy Carter that celebrated the integration of the federal judiciary. Its programming includes summer sessions where students work with volunteers from the legal community in partnership with a university to introduce them to the practice of law.

The discussion led to the birth of the five-day MassMutual Summer Legal Institute. JTB provides the curriculum, which changes annually, and Western New England University and local law firms and judges help the students learn valuable information about the profession.

“I believe this program adds value to the community because it provides opportunities for young adults to see the benefits of going to college as well as the benefits of pursuing a career in the legal profession,” Roelling said. “It also adds value to the legal profession because people of color are underrepresented in the field of law, and it’s good for the volunteers as it gives them the opportunity to give back.”

SLI is open to students who will be high-school freshmen, sophomores, juniors, or seniors, and so far, 125 students from schools with diverse backgrounds have participated in the local program: 51% have been African-American, 20% have been Hispanic, 16% have been white, 8% have been Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 5% have multiple ethnicities.

Multi-faceted Curriculum

MassMutual Assistant Vice President and Counselor Patrice Sayach said the five-day SLI curriculum is intense and requires students to work at home in the evenings.

This year it began on Monday, July 11, and during the morning, students were introduced to the legal system and learned about a Supreme Court decision before they were presented with a fictional case and the facts that went along with it.

oral-argument competition

Patrice Sabach (far left) and Mark Roellig (far right) congratulate Nia Major, Jada Ficarra, Karissa Coleman, and Jerry Moore III on winning the oral-argument competition.

The case was important because each student was assigned to serve as a defense or prosecuting attorney and had to craft convincing arguments that they presented at the end of the week before mock judges in an oral-argument competition.

MassMutual attorneys served as coaches and met with them in small groups to help them understand what facts were relevant and how and why they could be used in the courtroom.

“We showed them this is the kind of thing lawyers do on a day-to-day basis, that they need to understand the law and how it applies to world situations,” Sayach said.

After lunch, they met with a panel of MassMutual attorneys who talked about their backgrounds and allowed the students to ask questions.

Tuesday was spent at Western New England University, where members of the Law department taught the group networking skills that included how to give an elevator pitch, how to introduce oneself, how to enter and leave a group in an appropriate manner, and how to follow up with people they met. There was also a session on financial literacy that focused on the college-admissions process and financial-aid resources.

In addition, the students traveled to the Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, LLC law firm, had lunch with the attorneys, and took part in oral-argument reviews.

The day included a seminar on professional etiquette, and each student was given their own business cards, which they used later during a networking session with seven judges, attorneys from local law firms, and top MassMutual executives and lawyers.

“The idea is for the legal community to work together to form a pipeline of diverse candidates who are underrepresented in the legal profession,” Roellig explained.

Wednesday began at the state courthouse in Springfield, where students observed a legal proceeding that dealt with juvenile abuse, which was followed by a panel discussion with three judges, facilitated by MassMutual attorney Dorothy Varon.

In the afternoon, they visited the federal courthouse, where Judge Mark Mastroianni presided over a mock trial. The students had prepared for it in advance, and some students served as members of the jury, one acted as the bailiff, while others played the role of witnesses or were assigned to teams of mock attorneys.

Sayach noted that all members of the jury agreed that the defendant was guilty, except for one student who was able to convince his peers that reasonable doubt existed.

“The students took the case very seriously,” she told BusinessWest.

jury as a hypothetical case

Students act as members of the jury as a hypothetical case is tried before them.

The day ended with a presentation by a U.S. marshal and additional small-group oral-presentation preparations and reviews.

On Thursday, the students went to Hartford, Conn., where they continued to work on their final oral arguments. After lunch, they visited Day Pitney LLC, where they met with attorneys who helped them polish and perfect their presentations and told them about the schooling required to pursue a career in law.

The oral-argument competition was held Friday at WNEU School of Law in a mock courtroom, and MassMutual attorneys served as judges. After the competition, the students toured the law school and attended a negotiating session before being divided into pairs and given a problem to negotiate.

At the end of the day, a graduation ceremony was held, and awards were presented, including a trip that four students won to fly to Washington, D.C. and participate in a day-long JTB event that will include a tour of the Supreme Court, lunch with a Supreme Court justice, a visit to a local law firm where they will network with lawyers in the D.C. area, additional programming, and some sightseeing.

Life Lessons

BusinessWest recently met with the winners of the oral-argument competition, who had high praise for the program.

“It was fun,” said Karissa Coleman, an incoming 10th-grader at Springfield Central High School, who noted that, although she has always been interested in a law career, the program made it even more appealing.

“This helped me come out of my shell, and I found that oral arguments came naturally to me. I didn’t know how much work lawyers put in before they went to court, and I learned they really try to look for little details that can make a big difference to help their client,” said the 14-year-old. And although she called the experience in the courtroom “nerve-wracking,” her rebuttal was so refined, it helped her win the award.

Jada Ficarra, who will enter 10th grade next month at Sabis International Charter School in Springfield, enrolled in the program because she took part in a model Congress at her school and likes to debate issues.

“It taught me a lot about law. It’s really a broad field, and I found out there are many different careers in the field to choose from,” she said, noting that she talked to real-estate, divorce, and corporate attorneys, as well as some who specialize in litigation.

The teen hopes to get a summer job next year from contacts she made, and although she wants to become an obstetrician, a legal career has become her second choice.

Fourteen-year-old Jerry Moore III took part in the program with his sister Simone last year, and returned this year to get more experience.

“I hope to go to law school after college,” said the Hampden Charter School of Science student. “Litigation appeals to me; it’s really interesting, and it gives you a thrill to get all of the evidence, present it to the jury, and try to convince them that your side is right.”

He was nervous about the networking session, but the experience made him comfortable with it as well as with public speaking.

“I did a lot of work at home, refining my arguments, reading about the law, and researching what it says. It was hard, but it was also a lot of fun,” he reported, adding that, although the side of the case he had to argue was not the side he would have chosen on his own, it taught him that, “by preparing a good argument, it’s possible to win a case.”

Tinsae Erkailo took part in the program two years ago. He won the annual trip to Washington D.C. and is working as an intern at MassMutual this summer.

The 17-year-old moved to the U.S. from South Africa several years ago and said he never would have had the opportunity to meet lawyers in top law firms and make contacts that may help him get into Stanford University if he hadn’t participated in the Summer Legal Institute.

“The program made me realize that I needed to become a good speaker so I can get across what I want to say,” said the incoming senior at Springfield Renaissance School, adding that honing that skill helped him secure his current internship.

“The program also helps people identify careers they want to pursue,” he added. “Right now I am exploring what I want to do in the future, but confidence is really important no matter what you choose.”

Sayach agreed. “Students in the program improve their critical thinking, public-speaking, and networking skills, which will help them to become successful in any profession they choose to enter.”

Beat-the-odds students explore the law at ‘Just the Beginning’ program

This content is made possible by the generous sponsorship support of The Minneapolis Foundation.

Trevore Muhammad

MinnPost photo by Cynthia BoydTrevore Muhammad

Beating-the-educational-odds stories are popular this graduation time of year. More than that, they are heartening.

Count among them these.

Barely 17, Trevore Muhammad is a college sophomore who is one of two youths in a big extended family to finish high school and go on to college.

“Five of my male cousins should have graduated high school before I did. None of them did. They dropped out,’’ Muhammad tells me, speaking thoughtfully and quietly. Instead of discouraging him, those numbers give him all the more reason to stay in school and do well, he says.

Hothan Mohamed, daughter of a small businessman born in Ethiopia, is a 2013 graduate of Southwest High School in Minneapolis. She starts Augsburg College this fall armed with almost two years of college credits.

Promising students

Both are involved with the Summer Legal Institute, a five-day law immersion program held at the University of Minnesota Law School this week for promising high school students and designed to nurture interest in legal careers — especially among young persons from socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds typically underrepresented in the legal profession.

A 2012 study by the American Bar Association, which has programs to promote racial and ethnic diversity in its ranks, reported this:

According to the 2010 Census, people of color comprised 36.3% of the United States population. At the beginning of this bar year, the ABA’s total membership was 337,453; 114,396 of the members reported their race, ethnicity or gender. In contrast to the U.S. population, minorities constitute less than 10% of the Association’s membership according to reported figures.

This initiative, sponsored by the Just the Beginning Foundation (JTBF) based in Chicago, introduces students to a variety of law-related careers, way beyond the stories portrayed  on television shows like “Law and Order,’’ says Paula Lucas, a lawyer and the executive director of JTBF.

Paula Lucas

MinnPost photo by Cynthia BoydPaula Lucas

Students think all lawyers do is “go to court,” but the week-long program corrects that misperception, she says. Students visit federal court and law firms to meet with judges, lawyers and others working for the U.S. Marshall and in probation and other law-related career fields.

Students engage in mock trials and oral argument competitions, get tutorials on professional skills and behavior and networking etiquette. Along the way, they meet plenty of lawyers, judges, law enforcement and court employees. They take a financial literacy workshop that demonstrates the importance of saving and investing their earnings.

They face head-on the hard reality of paying for a college education when they hear from college financial-aid experts.

JTBF began in Chicago in 1992 and the summer trainings have been held in Minneapolis since 2009. The institute is free to the students, paid for by the foundation through sponsorships and grants.

‘Law school on steroids’

“It’s like law school on steroids,’’ jokes Mohamed. She and her twin sister are the first in their family to go to college.

She signed up for the institute not only because she’s interested in the law as a possible career, but also because next week she starts a summer internship with the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office through the City of Minneapolis STEP-UP Achieve, a youth jobs program.

“It is like a training for me,’’ she says.

Hothan Mohamed

MinnPost photo by Cynthia BoydHothan Mohamed

In a classroom nearby I see a young man in dreadlocks standing at a podium acting as if he is an attorney addressing an appellate judge.

“May it please the court,’’ he begins. Odd words coming from a teenager’s mouth, usually.

About 40 students fill the classroom, all alert and engaged.

“The program broadened my horizons,’’ explains Trevore Muhammad, that remarkable 17-year-old from Chicago and criminology major at Southern Illinois University.

A 2009 graduate of the JTBF training, with an eye to going on to law school, he’s an intern and mentor to this class of kids. He’s their model.

Muhammad credits not only the program, but also his mother “who is like a rock, especially when it comes to making it through,’’ and his father, who was his hero as providing the inspiration and drive that will keep him in school and on track to a better life.

Judges talk diversity during 3rd annual Springfield Summer Legal Institute

SPRINGFIELD - Thirty-three high school students from Greater Springfield participated in the Third Annual Summer Legal Institute funded by MassMutual Financial Group. (Photo courtesy of Western New England University )

SPRINGFIELD – Thirty-three high school students from Greater Springfield participated in the Third Annual Summer Legal Institute funded by MassMutual Financial Group. (Photo courtesy of Western New England University )

By Stephanie Barry |
on July 09, 2015 at 6:30 AM

SPRINGFIELD – A panel of judges told a group of nearly three dozen local high school judges that falling outside “the mainstream” shouldn’t force them further away from their goals.

Hampden Superior Court judges Mary Lou Rup and Mark Mason joined Springfield District Court Judge Charles Groce in addressing young participants of the Third Annual Springfield Summer Legal Institute about their experiences ascending to the judiciary.

Mason, who is openly gay, Groce, who is black, and Rup, who broke into the legal field when women were scant, talked about diversity in the judiciary and society in general.

“Unfortunately, the legal profession is not sufficiently diverse and the bench certainly is not sufficiently diverse,” Mason told the students during a panel discussion at Hampden Superior Court.

The discussion was part of a week-long agenda of law-centric exercises made possible by a $27,000 grant from MassMutual Financial Group.

Other activities include tours of a local law office, presentations on business and finance at Western New England School of Law, a professional etiquette seminar, Federal Courts day and a mock trial.

“It’s the skill sets we think will make them successful anywhere,” said Patrice Sabach, assistant vice president and legal counsel from MassMutual.

Dorothy Varon, also of MassMutual, said that even this week, students gained enough confidence to approach the financial giant’s President and CEO Roger Crandall at a reception this week.

“They walked right up to a CEO of a Fortune 100 company, they looked him in the eye, asked him questions,” Varon said.

Students entering or enrolled in Greater Springfield high schools apply for the free program each year. This year there were 33 participants.

It’s the skill sets we think will make them successful anywhere.

During the judges’ panel discussion, Rup jokingly gestured to the portraits hanging around the room of white-haired retired judges.

“What do you notice that’s common about all of them?” she asked, drawing laughter. “When I was growing up, the big professions, doctors, lawyers, judges, were all white guys. And straight guys – or maybe they weren’t but who knew?”

She said she grew up in an era when women were expected to marry, become secretaries, teachers or nurses.

“That sort of struck me as unfair,” said Rup, who was a prosecutor and a defense lawyer before being appointed to the bench in 1992.

Groce told the students to be open to being inspired by others who do not necessarily look like them or share the same backgrounds, and not to buy into a negative mindset.

“You must be careful of the ‘everything sucks’ people. Because everything doesn’t suck,” Groce said.

He also told students that he was first inspired by his grandfather, who grew up in rural Mississippi during segregation.

“He told me: ‘I did hard work so all you have to do is work hard.’ So after that – bam! I was out the door and I was going to get it,” Groce said.

Sabach said the summer legal institute and other programs like it are part of the “Just the Beginning” Foundation. That was founded in Chicago around the time President Jimmy Carter appointed a number of minorities and women to the federal judiciary.

“We haven’t done very much, but . . . more women, more blacks, more Hispanics have been appointed to the Federal Courts . . . . The point is, that’s still just a beginning,” Carter said while reflecting on his appointments.


Summer Legal Institute to show teens careers in law

_33Posted by: The Indiana

An annual program that gives young people from underrepresented communities a firsthand look at careers in the legal profession will take place this week in Indianapolis.

The 2015 Just the Beginning-A Pipeline Organization Summer Legal Institute begins Monday and concludes with closing ceremonies Friday at Eli Lilly & Co. The Chicago-based organization aims to promote diversity in the legal profession, and the institute allows dozens of students ages 14-18 an opportunity to learn about careers in law.

During the week, students will visit Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, where they will prepare and present oral arguments. Networking, and negotiations and advocacy sessions also are planned at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Bose McKinney & Evans LLP, and Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP.

Program exposes diverse group of Baltimore students to diverse practices of law

The 20 high school students participating in the “Just the Beginning” program spent Wednesday afternoon at the Edward A. Garmatz U.S. District Courthouse in Baltimore developing oral arguments for a hypothetical search-and-seizure case. (Lauren Kirkwood/The Daily Record)

The 20 high school students participating in the “Just the Beginning” program spent Wednesday afternoon at the Edward A. Garmatz U.S. District Courthouse in Baltimore developing oral arguments for a hypothetical search-and-seizure case. (Lauren Kirkwood/The Daily Record)

By: Lauren Kirkwood Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer July 15, 2015

The day-to-day responsibilities of a private practice attorney, an in-house counsel and a judge differ widely, but a group of Baltimore-area teenagers who aspire to join the legal field are getting a glimpse of what each of these professions entails this week.

Chicago-based Just the Beginning – A Pipeline Organization launched its first week-long program in Baltimore on Monday, giving 20 high school students a firsthand sense of the legal industry through meetings with lawyers and judges and by developing skills used by lawyers.

The pipeline program aims to increase diversity in the field by giving students from underrepresented groups and lower-income communities the chance to both explore whether the law is for them and gather practical tips and skills for getting into college and law school.

“A lawyer is definitely on my laundry list of potential careers, and we’ve met with so many people and learned so much about the legal system,” said Allemai Dagnatchew, a 15-year-old student at Maryvale Preparatory School.

All week, the students are honing their oral argument skills in preparation for a presentation Friday in front of a mock appellate court on a search-and-seizure case. On Wednesday, the students broke into small groups in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to discuss the relevant issues and case law needed for their arguments.

To help with these preparations, several law students in the Thurgood Marshall Opportunity Program, which offers summer clerkships in the Maryland attorney general’s office, worked with the high school students to develop their arguments.

“They’ve been taking moot court and mock trial courses, so we thought it’d be a really great opportunity for the law students to reach back to the high school students,” said Michelle Lipkowitz, a partner at Saul Ewing LLP, which worked with Exelon Corp. to bring the pipeline program to Baltimore.

Last summer, the Washington, D.C. branch of Just the Beginning’s summer legal institute program brought its high school students to Baltimore for a day to visit Exelon’s headquarters and meet with attorneys from the company and several other firms.

“We thought, ‘Our kids in Baltimore deserve this; let’s figure it out and launch a full week program next year,’” Lipkowitz said.

Along with representatives from Exelon and Saul Ewing, attorneys from McGuireWoods LLP and DLA Piper US LLP will work with the students this week. Lipkowitz said she hopes the future programs will be able to include more participants as more firms get involved.

The high school students also received an introduction to the legal profession at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, where they heard from Dean Donald Tobin and former Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, and also received a tour of the law school.

“It was a really great way for them to start out envisioning themselves as law students or lawyers,” said Michelle Yun, assistant general counsel for Exelon, which hosted the Baltimore students this week. “If I had known about these opportunities as a high school student, even though I did become a lawyer, it would have been life changing.”

Taylor Smith, a 17-year-old rising senior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, said Wednesday that the program has already proven a valuable experience as she reviewed case law on to support her position that a hypothetical search of a student at a high school violated the student’s Fourth Amendment rights.

“I’ve always had a passion for not letting someone tell me no,” Smith said. “I’m definitely interested in a career in the law.”