By Kelly Hayes
The Public Interest Law Foundation held an informative Public Service Panel on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, emphasizing the importance of incorporating community service into our law school education and as future attorneys.
Professor Maurice Dyson of CLIMB, Professor Alex Simpson of Street Law and Lori Mendez of the SDCBA Community Service Committee discussed the influences public service can have on the San Diego Community.
“It gives you a sense of direct purpose,” Professor Dyson said of the CLIMB Program.
Crawford Legal Institute & Mentorship Bond (otherwise known as CLIMB) provides an outlet for Crawford high school students. TJSL CLIMB members work as mentors with Crawford High School to provide value-based education and help Crawford students succeed in San Diego’s Community.
“There’s a schools to prison pipeline leading to higher drop-outs, [students] join gangs, become involved in crimes. CLIMB exists to set that clock back,” Professor Dyson said, “to unwind that phenomenon. They are tremendous role models to these kids.”
Crawford high school students are primarily low-to-middle income families, from all demographics, and unfortunately these circumstances ultimately lead to poor choices, poor programs and limited access to rehabilitative programs. CLIMB has worked to restore these issues by addressing them in a peer-centered Teen Court Program. “It gently restores the person back into the community,” he said. “We get these kids to think broadly about their potential and the tangible result is their grades improving.”
Professor Alex Simpson is the Program Director for Street Law, as well as the Legal Director for the California Innocence Project. He implemented the Street Law Program to give law students a chance to work in the San Diego community and teach high school students the importance of the law and our legal system.
“We try to give them a concept of rights and responsibilities under the law,” he said, “a place of community that they haven’t thought about before. A lot of these kids see the law as a negative force in their lives, we try to flip that.”
TJSL’s Street Law program will be taught in the spring 2013. “We go to high school classrooms and teach…the practical stuff,” Professor Simpson said. The lessons include how to read rental agreements and how to avoid having a security deposit taken, the basics of employment discrimination, criminal law topics and constitutional law issues.
Although many law students come out of law school thinking Public Interest Law isn’t for them, Professor Simpson encouraged students to think again.
“It’s something that is very rewarding, and very fulfilling, but unfortunately not very lucrative,” he said. “Giving back to the community is incredibly important. It’s incredibly rewarding. It’s not the same experience with my [lawyer] friends. They’re frustrated, underappreciated and have no connection with their clients. I’m happy with what I’m doing. I wake up and want to go to work.”
Lori Mendez who works as a personal injury attorney here in San Diego was appointed as the San Diego County Bar Association’s Community Service Committee Chair by the SDCBA President, and she hasn’t regretted any of her service to the San Diego Community.
She said her organization acts as an umbrella organization to so many other programs run by the SDCBA that allows attorneys, judges and law students to become more involved in San Diego. “We care about the community,” she said. “We really do. You feel like you’re making a big difference. It’s not just with one child, it’s more than that.”
Ms. Mendez discussed the various programs and organizations involved including, the Read-In Program, which allows legal professionals to go inside elementary schools and read to the children.
Although many of the programs are intended for students and the San Diego community, they have an impact on our legal field as well, like the Peer Mediation program. It implements positive conflict-resolution techniques with fourth and fifth graders. “This is something we use in the law,” she said. “We’re always resolving problems. We need to learn how to get along with our adversaries, our clients and positive techniques to do so.”
Overall the panel provided the TJSL students with some guidance about the importance of being active in the community through public service. “Pick something you’re passionate about,” Ms. Mendez said. “Just get involved, because there is so much need in our community.”