Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Detroit Partnerships Aim to Bring Practical Law Education to More High School Students

What do a public school system, a nonprofit organization, and the country’s largest auto manufacturer have in common? They all have an interest in teaching young people how to successfully navigate a law-saturated society and access pathways to career success.

 Leveraging nearly 50 years of experience developing school-based programs in partnership with the legal community, Street Law has joined forces with the General Motors’ law department and the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Together, they have embarked on a series of programs designed to strengthen and grow law instruction at the high school level, teach young people about pathways to careers in the legal profession, and tap the expertise and enthusiasm of the Detroit legal community.

 Expanding Diversity in the Legal Profession

 According to the American Bar Association’s 2020 report on demographics in the legal profession, “85% of lawyers are white, compared to 77% of the U.S. population. Only 5% of lawyers are African American, 5% are Hispanic, and 3% are Asian.” [1]

 Street Law’s Legal Diversity Pipeline Program aims to address this dearth of diversity by pairing volunteer legal professionals with high school law classes to teach young people about law and pathways to careers in the legal sector. General Motors (GM) joins more than 50 companies and law firms across the country that annually reach 2,500 diverse high school students with legal lessons, legal simulations, and career exploration activities.

 GM convened a team of 24 volunteer lawyers from its law department, as well as from partner law firms Baker Donelson, Dykema, Eversheds Sutherland, Fish Richardson, and Lightfoot. The volunteer team was trained by Street Law and deployed (virtually) to Cass Technical High School to lead lessons on contracts and a simulated contract dispute.

 The program culminated in a virtual capstone event where students explored legal career paths. GM’s executive vice president and general counsel, Craig Glidden, shared encouraging remarks about the importance of the profession of law: “As you probably learned today, lawyering isn’t just about contracts and going to court (although that is fun too). Rather, law as a profession is also on the front line of leading social change, especially in the push for social justice and policy reforms, and now, more than ever before, the world needs your talents and your point of view.”

 GM’s Pipeline Program reached 110 students this spring semester. Participating young people reported leaving the program more knowledgeable and inspired and had great things to say about their time with the GM team:

  • "During our two weeks with the lawyers from General Motors, I managed to learn a lot about the profession and even got to participate in a simulated situation that turned out to be really fun and eye-opening."
  • "The most important thing I learned was not to limit myself to one field for the rest of my life."
  • "I liked how thorough the lawyers were in explaining things to help us understand."
  • "I enjoyed how they explained the contracts [with] a deeper understanding than from the book definition."
  • "Stay longer."

The program brought real value to Greg Evans’ classroom. The law teacher at Cass Tech said, “The life lessons that were shared during the career seminar were the perfect capstone to the four class sessions we spent with the General Motors lawyers and their partners. I look forward to doing this again and hope other Detroit teachers will have a chance to bring this program to their classrooms."

To systematize long-term support to the students at Cass Technical High School, Street Law and GM are also piloting a lawyer-teacher partnership model to capitalize on the expertise of lawyers and provide ongoing mentoring and support for classroom teachers. Adam Wenner, a partner at Honigman in Detroit, is serving as a legal adviser to the law courses at Cass Tech, providing both legal expertise and access to community resources that can enhance student learning of law.

Fostering Teacher Professional Development for Detroit Teachers

Street Law is an established leader in providing professional development to secondary social studies teachers. Our teacher trainings champion and teach strategies that build students’ civic skills and get them to engage deeply with content.

It is a goal of the Detroit Public Schools Community District to offer law courses at 10 of its high schools. To support this endeavor, Street Law is providing a series of virtual teacher professional development offerings aimed at 1) improving teacher subject-matter knowledge around law and government and 2) preparing teachers to use effective, interactive teaching strategies in their classrooms, both in-person and virtually.

The series, which began in March and will run through fall 2021, will cover a variety of topics, including cultivating student voice, recent police-related Supreme Court cases, and using mock trials and moot courts in the classroom.

According to Liz Triden, a Social Studies Training and Support Coordinator for the District, DPSCD makes investing in the development of its teachers a priority. "DPSCD teachers deserve best in class professional development so they feel confident and prepared to deliver lessons for students. Street Law offers high-quality professional development from hands-on learning experiences for teachers like mock trials and moot court simulations to virtual adaptations of strategies like Take a Stand. Our partnership with Street Law this school year is just the beginning of great programming for both teachers and students in DPSCD."

Street Law Executive Director Ashok Regmi emphasizes the value public-private partnerships like this can create. "We are excited about this partnership with GM and DPSCD to bring practical law and civic education to Detroit public schools. The reflection from students after attending the program is a testament that such public private partnerships work. We hope to build on this model and explore with partners to scale it in Detroit."


Image: Magnifying glass over a map of Detroit