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Public Outreach

Your Partner in Law Related Education Programs in Your Neighborhood)

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the new Public Outreach Committee (f.k.a. the Law Related Education Committee) of the State Bar. Our job description reads "Shall concern itself with the monitoring, coordination, promotion, and, at the request of the Board of Commissioners, the development of community programs and materials advancing the understanding of law and the legal profession, including Law Day programs, with particular emphasis on programs and materials for youth."

Our underlying mission has not changed and that is to enhance the public's trust in and understanding of the legal process. We believe that education leads to understanding and understanding leads to appreciation. We provide opportunities for that educational experience.

Speaking of education that is one of the reasons for this report to you, to educate you about the work we do. First and foremost this year was a particularly difficult year due to the lack of funding. The purpose of this report is not to publicly cry about our financial status, we understand why the Bar did what it did and still stand behind its decisions, but to ignore the reality of its effect on our work would be a misrepresentation if not outright fraud.

Last year while our committee's existence was being reviewed we were allowed to continue our work without funding and many of the committee stayed on to do just that. With volunteers like that you can imagine how excited and appreciative we were upon being told that the work of the LRE Committee would be continued under the umbrella of the new Outreach Committee. With our committee being preserved and with new tasks set before us, and some old ones still our responsibility, we set out to do what we could without funds. We have achieved some success, although admittedly less than desired but we are more fully educated as to what we can realistically achieve without funds. We have therefore been rethinking what we should do and analyzing what we can do to achieve the purposes for existence.

Here is what were able to do this year:

Mock Trial—The Mock Trial program is the one you hear about in your local high schools. The Outreach Committee works closely with the Center for Civic Education to coordinate the statewide tournament. Vital to the success of this program are the attorneys and judges who work with the schools and students in their communities to prepare for the competition. The students, participating as lawyers or witnesses, gain an insider's understanding to the intricacies of planning and presenting a case before the court as well as an education regarding the specific question of law being argued.

The lack of funding has this program in extreme jeopardy, at least in terms of a state wide mock trial competition. Schools will continue to be able to host mock trials and ample materials exist to allow that to continue indefinitely. But to organize and host a state wide competition takes money. For the last two competitions the Center for Civic Education and numerous private donors have stepped up to assist and the program continued. But donors have expressed that they are unwilling to fund this annually and this year we collected less than we did the year before. Despite being an optimist I have my doubts that this program can be continued without funding from the Bar.

Teachers, Lawyers and Children—More commonly known as "TLC". In this program attorneys and judges are paired up with a specific teacher and class for one school year. The teacher and attorney plan regular visits to the classroom for law related education activities. The overriding objective of the program is to improve the student's understanding of our legal system and the role of lawyers and judges in our society. We assist by pairing partners and training the teachers, attorneys and judges. We can even provide several sure-fire presentations so that you do not have to reinvent the wheel in planning your programs. Of course attorneys are encouraged to modify the "canned" presentations to satisfy their needs.

The lack of funding has all but devastated this program. Without funding we were unable to solicit participation and pair up teachers and classrooms with attorney partners. Without funding we were unable to provide the materials and perform the trainings we have in the past for those new partnerships. That partnerships exist today is a tribute to the people in those partnerships and the value of the program. As best as we can tell only those partnerships that were established prior to the budget cuts exist today and then solely due to the fact that the participants took the steps necessary to continue their relationships without any assistance on our part.

Conflict Resolution—It is our shared belief that responsible citizens, and our youth are responsible citizens if trained and entrusted with that role, must learn to resolve conflict peacefully. This program consists of training students to be "peer mediators" in order to provide a forum for the resolution of conflicts between students. Many of our schools have such programs and would welcome the assistance of attorneys as advisors. Many more do not and would welcome the assistance of attorneys in implementing such programs. The work of our committee is to assist in training the attorneys and teachers to implement a Conflict Resolution program in the school districts in your area. Once trained they can train and supervise the student mediators and perpetuate the program without our assistance.

We were unable to continue this program due to lack of funding. The lack of funding prevented us from promoting the implementation of this worthwhile program in other schools. Past funding had been used to locate schools with interest, to locate attorneys to assist, to train the attorney's and teachers, to purchase the initial materials and to get the program off and running. It is my understanding that the programs we began still operate without our involvement as it was hoped they would do, but were unable to do anything to expand this worthwhile program.

Law School and the Careers That Follow—This booklet has been prepared for dissemination throughout Michigan to answer questions about the profession as a career and the law school experience. It was just updated year before last.

We continue to make this booklet available on our web site for downloading and in hard copy to any entity willing to pay the printing cost.

You and the Law—This booklet has long been available through the State Bar and Michigan Lawyers Auxiliary. It has assisted countless attorneys and teachers in the teaching of law to youth throughout the state. It was also updated in 2001. It is hoped that this booklet will become a part of the Social Science or Citizenship curriculum aimed at the 7th and 8th grade levels.

We continue to make this booklet available on our web site for downloading and in hard copy to any entity willing to pay the printing cost.

In addition the Michigan Lawyers Auxiliary has stepped up and funded the printing of hard copies for distribution when a special need has been demonstrated. But they are unable to print the literally thousands of books we used to distribute annually at no cost to teachers and schools.

Web Page—Quickly becoming the silver lining during our unfunded status and perceived to be one of the key avenues to educate in the future we are actively and aggressively looking at the internet to provide the outreach we used to do in person and through other programs. We are thinking out of the box and attempting to create an interactive site that will educate adults as well as the youth we are placing the emphasis upon.

If this is an area that interests you and you are willing to volunteer your expertise and creativity contact me and we will find a place on the team for you.

Law Day—Although the Law Day committee was disbanded their work goes on. Members of their committee were appointed to the LRE committee last year and their work was officially assigned to the Outreach Committee upon its creation. We oversaw the 2003 Law Day programs including the state wide essay contest and Law Day luncheon in Lansing. We are willing to assist you in participating in implementation of the state wide 2004 Law Day programs or lend advice as to how you can establish your own local recognition program.

The lack of funding has the committee rethinking the luncheon and essay contest so that they can be operated at break even. We are grateful to the assistance of private donors and the Michigan Lawyers Auxiliary who funded the programs this year.

Open Justice Commission Round Table Curricula—We agreed to assist the Open Justice Commission to develop model civics curriculum to enhance the use of their video "√ČAnd Justice For All". The work continues to prepare a teachers guide that will provide a class agenda, learning goals, background information, discussion topics and detailed analysis of the issues contained within the video.

We did remarkably well with no funds. But we cannot continue to do so. Our first line of defense is you. You need to be our eyes, ears, and mouth.

We can no longer reach out and inform the bar membership of the work we are doing because of the lack of funds to do so. The promotion of our programs is now strictly by word of mouth. Please keep and/or distribute this report and be prepared to introduce and/or direct your contacts to our committee if we can help members of the State Bar fulfill a community need. Perhaps once you have read it you will want to begin one of our programs in your area. We are willing to share our expertise and to help, just ask.

Secondly, some of our programs require the assistance of volunteer attorneys. On those occasions we would like to be able to contact you and count on your help. Your stepping up at those times can go a long way and avoids the need of pulling out the bar journal and cold calling all the attorneys in your area. Please volunteer.

We worked wonders in continuing the work we did prior to budget cuts. But the lack of funding has taken its toll more this year than last. We had to continue to set aside an aggressive expansion of our programs into other schools and communities because of the lack of funds to support those expansions. And the lack of funds has eroded the existing programs. We don't presume to suggest that our current funding needs should become a current State Bar priority. We will continue to do what we can with what we have while the Bar works through this financial difficulty. But we do need to be funded and we would like to be funded as soon as financially feasible. Like a garden the work we have done cannot be maintained without care and nurturing. But unlike a garden, which does not require more than water, sunshine and the labor of skilled hands, much of the nurturing our programs need cannot be done without funding.

Hon. Ronald W. Lowe

     

 

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State Bar of Michigan
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