Voices of the Bar 5/5/16: What is the most memorable experience you have had volunteering for Law Day in the Schools?

Law Day in the Schools is in full swing for the next few weeks, placing volunteer attorneys in classrooms in Boston public schools to teach more than 1,400 students about Miranda rights. We are thrilled that in its 30th year, this program has drawn so much interest from a wonderful team of volunteer attorneys.

The topic of the lessons this year is Miranda rights. For younger students, the curriculum was framed around “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. The picture books tells the infamous story from the wolf’s perspective. Some classes participated in a mock trial. For high school students, attorneys have focused on discussing the history and Constitutional basis of Miranda rights.

For this week’s “Voices of the Bar” column, we’re reaching out to ask:

“What is the most memorable experience you have had volunteering for Law Day in the Schools?

Rachel Hershfang – U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission 
“This year for Law Day, my partner and I visited a K2 (pre-K) class at the Nathan Hale School.  As interpreted for the younger set, the curriculum included reading an alternate version of the three little pigs, told from the perspective of the wolf.  As recommended in the instructions, we stopped every few pages to ask questions to ensure that the kids were following.  The first time we stopped, it was to confirm that the kids understood that the story was being told from a different perspective.  “So, who is telling the story?”  I asked.  “You!” answered a number of the kids.  Lesson learned:  don’t ask dumb questions to a kindergartner.”

Meghan Cosgrove – Donoghue Barrett & Singal
“The ability to take time out from our busy “lawyer” schedule and remember that our profession has a duty to mentor and engage with the younger generation.  Their energy, enthusiasm and inquisitive nature was motivating and refreshing and made me remember why I do what I do!”

Paula Bagger – Cooke Clancy & Gruenthal
“So, the wolf was acquitted of his crimes against the three little pigs. The way the lesson was written, the prosecution never stood a chance.  But I was most impressed with the way our eight-year old jury listened to the witness examinations, weighed the evidence, and later explained their rationale to the group. Some great jurors coming up (not to mention the lawyers and judge).”

John McBrine and Rory Pheiffer – Nutter McClennen & Fish
“A couple years ago, we volunteered in a first grade classroom in East Boston.  We were both amazed at the depth of the students’ curiosity and awareness of the world around them.  One first grader asked a question about her hero, Justice Sotomayor.  Wow!  When we were in first grade, our heroes were Voltron and He-Man.”

Joseph Molina Flynn – Molina Flynn Law Offices
“I had the pleasure of reading “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” to a group of first graders in East Boston. At the end of the story, the wolf claims he was framed and he is not truly a big bad wolf. This revelation spurred a very insistent line of questioning from one of the first graders who used the word “framed” with shocking facility. The conversation taught me the importance of perspective. Prior to this encounter with the first grader, I did not think that they would be so well-versed in the perceived pitfalls of the criminal justice system. At the end, this first grader taught me that not all communities are created equally and that, unfortunately, the criminal justice system often carries collateral consequences we are, at times, too ready to ignore.”

Michelle O’Brien – Pierce Atwood
“My one experience participating in Law Day in the Schools was terrific! Although my undergraduate degree is in Education I had not been in front of a classroom for many years and I was a little nervous. I was quickly put at ease because the fifth graders were so welcoming and engaged in the discussion. I was impressed by how attentive and thoughtful they were, and it was interesting to see how different groups of students approached the same task in different ways. It was a good reminder to know your audience and be adaptive.”

Wadner Oge – Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners
“Every time I have a chance to participate in the Boston Bar Association’s Law Day in schools I experience something that is remarkable and memorable. I was previously asked by a second grader if all lawyers make a lot money. I took this opportunity to explain to his classroom how lawyers occupy different roles in our society, and our salary depends on whether we work for a firm or for the government. On May 4, 2016, I experienced something that is remarkable different as I was making my way to the school’s main entrance for the Law Day presentation. One of the fifth graders, who was going to participate in the Law Day program, came up to and asked me, are you the lawyer who is going to speak to my class? I was shocked and said yes and smiled. It was my time going to his school and he did not know who I was. I took a brief moment to reflect on why he thought that I was a lawyer. I realize that it was simply because I was wearing a suit with a shirt and tie, and that he already has an expectation what a lawyer must look like in our society. This remarkable lesson I draw from the fifth grader clearly exemplifies that our appearance is matter, and that it is having a greater positive impact on our school children than many of us have actually thought.”

Bruce Falby – DLA Piper
“My partner Mike McGurk and I oversaw a trial of the big bad wolf in a fourth grade classroom at Samuel Adams School in East Boston.  I’ll remember two things.  First, the jury was out all of 2 minutes before coming back with a verdict finding the wolf guilty of deliberating blowing down houses and eating pigs, yet when we polled the witnesses, both prosecution and defense, they would have acquitted.  Second, the defense attorney departed from the script by making an extemporaneous  argument for reconsideration after the jury came back.  Procedurally irregular, but we admired his passion.”

If you would like to respond to a future Voices of the Bar, make sure you send a headshot, and contact Lauren DiTullio at [email protected].