Law Day is a celebration of the law, a reflection on the role of the law in the foundation of our nation and a recognition of its importance to our society today. Our General Counsel team saw Law Day as an opportunity for our scholars to learn about the institutions that govern us and remind them of the power they have to enact great change in our world. They prepared two incredible programs:
- A Federal Courthouse Visit to the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse
During their visit, scholars observed oral arguments before the Court of Appeals, heard presentations from attorneys and federal judge, Judge Eunice Lee of the Second Circuit Federal Court, and participated in a mini mock trial activity based on the Cinderella story. Scholars visited the “Justice for All: Courts and the Community” learning center created by the late Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which was created to increase public understanding of the role and operations of the courts and to bring the courts closer to the community.
- An Attorney Panel Discussion
In this virtual panel event, scholars learned about legal careers from our legal team and accomplished attorneys who practice entertainment, intellectual property, criminal and immigration law. We heard from Christine Alden, Gina Crawley, Nicole George-Middleton, Ariana C. Smith, Ayoola Stewart, and Motisola Zulu.
Here’s what our General Counsel team had to say about the experience.
Why did you feel it was important for our scholars to take a field trip to the Federal Courthouse?
Georgina Crawley: It was important for our schools to take this field trip instead of learning about it in a lesson because the courthouse is a landmark with so much history, which includes the name of the courthouse, Thurgood Marshall, the purpose of the design of the interior of the building in addition to the courtrooms. Additionally, the students got to witness a court proceeding first hand to better understand the roles of the judges, lawyers and court staff. You feel how sacred and serious our legal system is when you enter the courthouse.
Ayoola Stewart: It was also important for students to see how enjoyable and interesting a legal proceeding can be. The students were fortunate enough to see an oral argument concerning a controversial event that went viral, namely the case in which a white woman harassed and called the police on a Black man who was bird watching in Central Park. I think it was important for the students to see the diverse panel of appellate judges analyze and question the argument of the parties in court, to see how they thought, and to allow their minds to fill with their own questions and opinions on the situation. Seeing justice happen live like that will stay with students years after they have graduated from Democracy Prep.
What activities did the scholars engage in during the trip? Did they get to interact with any members of NYC’s judiciary department?
Georgina Crawley: The scholars toured the courthouse, observed an appellate argument, met one of the judges who presided over the argument in addition to meeting another judge, a prosecutor and defense attorney. They also participated in a mock trial activity.
Ayoola Stewart: Here, the students took a photograph with the Honorable Barrington D. Parker of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, who was one of the presiding appellate judges during the oral argument that they observed.
Here, the students stand with Honorable Eunice C. Lee of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
You also coordinated a virtual panel discussion about different practices within the legal profession–what was one of the core insights from the panel that you think scholars needed to hear?
Georgina Crawley: The scholars needed to learn about the many fascinating areas of law to practice. They had an opportunity to meet lawyers from the entertainment industry, criminal, corporate and immigration. They also met lawyers who mirror their image and family, such as one attorney who grew up in the Bronx and another attorney who is a first generation immigrant. Meeting someone who looks like you and comes from a similar background is especially important in believing that your career goals are attainable.
According to the American Bar Association, about 5% of lawyers identify as African American. What message do you think it sent to students to get to hear from and speak with lawyers who identify as Black women?
Georgina Crawley: It is powerful for young ladies to see that they can enter into and succeed in a male dominated industry. It is also powerful to hear the stories of the Black women on the panel who advocated for themselves in their workplace and industry.
Ayoola Stewart: I think it was also important for students to recognize that if they are interested in a legal career, that they don’t have to be a part of the “old boy’s club,” so to speak. With enough grit and experience, they can open up their own firms and still be incredibly successful, like two of the attorney panelists did.
Were there any misconceptions about the legal profession that you were hoping the trip and/or the panel would clarify?
Georgina Crawley: I hoped the panel would clarify that not all lawyers are litigators as typically seen on television. They are diverse individuals with varying interests that can be fulfilled by practicing law. For example, if you absolutely love movies and tv, then you can represent talented actors or movie studios, such as FOX or Netflix.
Ayoola Stewart: I’m glad that the panelists were able to clear up the potential misconception that once you become a lawyer, that you can only be that type of lawyer forever or that you must work in a certain type of legal environment forever. Though some of the women discussed having keen interests in a legal field which they doggedly pursued, other women discussed how they changed legal fields or from litigation to more transactional work.
Certain departments of the Charter Management Organization don’t often have interactions with scholars. What motivated you (the General Counsel team) to initiate these two events?
Georgina Crawley: We each serve as role models to our scholars and should expose them to many career options. This exposure can spark an interest in a scholar and encourage them to continue with their education beyond DP. The field of law is so diverse. It is an enticing career for our scholars who are interested in civics, sports, music, community, politics, real estate, criminal matters and more.
As a civics-oriented institution, we have a responsibility to ensure that our scholars are prepared for the future. On Law Day, our scholars saw firsthand how they can be changemakers by being the next generation of advocates, lawyers, doctors, journalists, policy-makers, elected officials, philanthropists, and so much more.