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Unique partnership equips future lawyers

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Most people, at some point, rely on the services of a lawyer, whether in their personal or professional lives.

Lawyers shape their communities by helping to create laws, defending those in need of justice, challenging abuse of power and representing businesses that produce jobs.

This school year a special partnership has been set up to meet the need for dedicated and qualified lawyers, especially from the African-American community.

Hundreds of students are now being prepared for legal and social justice careers, thanks to a partnership between the Shortridge Magnet High School for Law and Public Policy, and the Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

At Shortridge, the law-themed curriculum is taught in part by IU McKinney Law faculty to students in grades 6 through 12. In addition, law school students and alumni tutor and mentor students from the program.

Juniors and seniors from the high school will also be selected to “shadow” law students working in the live client clinic, where they can experience practical aspects of the law and legal representation.

“This is one of the rare, if not the first, partnership between a graduate and professional school that’s partnered with a high school to teach law classes and provide mentoring,” said Stanley Law, principal of Shortridge, which is one of four magnet high schools in the Indianapolis Public Schools district that provide instruction for specialized careers.

“With this partnership, you have law professors who are experts in their field actually teaching classes to a group of high school students so that they can discover areas such as election law, criminal law and civil law.”

The goal of the Shortridge program is to prepare students for their roles as contributing citizens, while also exploring legal and social justice careers. Instructors work to ensure that by the end of their 12th grade year, students have what they need to succeed in college, and effectively read, write and think critically as they analyze cases and different areas of law.

“This program gives them an opportunity to think about some of the very issues they have come into contact with on a daily basis but never considered from a legal perspective,” said Law.

Markell Pipkins, a 15 year-old sophomore, is among the students at Shortridge who has already benefited from the partnership, which is in its first year.

“To have a successful legal career you really have to get a grasp and understanding of more than one area law because it’s a broad subject,” Pipkins said. “I’ve really been grateful to have this class because it has given me a chance to get specialized help from professors, which will help me greatly in the future.”

Pipkins, who wants to be a prosecuting attorney to help fight crime, smiled while noting that he was inspired to study law in the fifth grade, after realizing that he loves to argue, but wants to use his gifts to help enhance the community.

“This partnership is a very great idea because we are not just confined to Shortridge, but have an opportunity to interact with lawyers, judges and other figures in politics,” Pipkins said.

Currently, Shortridge has more than 600 students this year, and many more on its waiting list. Students are required to keep at least a 2.0 grade point average, and the school offers extracurricular activities such as sports and a mock trial team.

“From our perspective, we would like to see the pipeline expanded in terms of students who able to come into law as a profession, especially with the decline of African American and Hispanic students being accepted into law school,” said Carlton Waterhouse, one of several professors at the IU School of Law who volunteers for the partnership. “It’s just very satisfying to extend the number of people from non-traditional backgrounds who want to achieve their dream of becoming a lawyer or obtaining a law degree.”

For more information about Shortridge Magnet High School for Law and Public Policy, visit Schools.ips.k12.in.us.

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