Shelley Wojciechowski, Assistant Director of Citizenship for Law-Related Education Program, meets with the 13 Law Links interns at the University of Maryland School of Law every Wednesday morning during the seven-week program.
“I plan to have it,” said Shelley Wojciechowski, “even if it’s a bare-bones operation.”
This was an unusual statement to hear in late April about Law Links, Citizenship Law-Related Education Program’s (CLREP) seven-week, paid internship that allows Baltimore City high school students to work in the summer with local law firms, legal agencies and judges.
Yet two months later, 13 rising Baltimore City juniors and seniors were accepted into the program, fitted for their trademark blue blazers and prepped on meeting their summer employers. Firms and agencies, despite stressful economic times, made their money available for Law Links.
“The fact that we are even able to run the City program speaks volumes about the support,” Wojciechowski, CLREP’s Assistant Director, says after Law Links’ 15th Annual Kickoff Luncheon on June 24.
Law Links has always proclaimed to be an asset to inner-city students. But it’s the students’ annual service that’s become a prized commodity for employers.
“They open your eyes to so much,” says Carolyn Kramer, who has been the Law Links administrator for her firm, Schochor, Federico & Staton, P.A., for the last 10 years. “They rejuvenate everything you do on a day-to-day basis.”
“It is one of the soundest investments we can make,” Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge David A. Young says.
Over the last several years, Judge Young’s handful of Law Links interns have restored his views on the City’s youth, which had worn after serving nine years in the Juvenile Court.
“All day you deal with negativity and you become jaded,” recalls Judge Young. “Then you interact with the interns and you see, in actuality, how fantastic and vibrant they are. They’re not dropouts. They’re not aimless.”
"THE FACT THAT WE ARE
even able to run the Baltimore City Law Links program speaks volumes about its support."
Assistant Director, Citizenship Law-Related Education Program
Mitchell Gresham Jr., Judge Young’s current Law Links intern from Dr. Samuel L. Banks High School, has already written two memos for the Judge, a responsibility the adjudicator doesn’t take lightly nor recalls entrusting to previous interns.
“The interns surprised me at how interested they are in their own community,” says Rodney Gray, a partner at Mead, Flynn & Gray, P.A., a criminal defense firm in Baltimore. “They tell us about their experiences, friends and family members. It motivates them to learn more about criminal law.”
Law Links, foremost, is about education. The program is structured to teach interns about business and law.
“It gives them a great look at life in a professional world,” says Kramer.
“This will either reinforce their desire to go into law or tell them this is not what they thought it was,” counters Gray.
Employers range from state entities like the Office of the Attorney General and State’s Attorney, to private firms like Miles & Stockbridge, P.C., to nonprofit agencies like Legal Aid Bureau. But they all share the effort of giving the interns the full legal experience, which includes viewing trial proceedings.
“They like going to court,” says Stephanie Butler-Sebree, a Management Associate with the Attorney General’s Office. “They get to see first hand what it’s all about. Sometimes they go to a courtroom, sit and listen.”
Butler-Sebree remembers first participating in the program in 1995, when the Law Links wage rates were a little lower than this year’s $7.25/hour. Total, the interns earn approximately $2,000, which the employer pays.
“It’s not like you can’t find the money,” says Gray. “They’re not making a million dollars.”
But the broad economic struggles over the last year left funding and firm participation in question at the time of Wojciechowski’s April proclamation. Typically, said Wojciechowski, concern lays in one of those areas, not both.
The program by that point had operated for 14 years and spawned operations in Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore and Prince George’s County. Enough money was secured to continue the Baltimore City program – with its smallest class ever – but the satellite programs were suspended for the summer. Wojciechowski pleaded with some applicants to reapply in 2010.
CLREP requires $45,000 to operate the program each year. This money goes towards the tailored blue blazer the interns receive, weekly education materials distributed, and other expenses. Scholarships are provided to agencies that want to participate but can’t afford the $2,000 expense. Kittamaqundi Community Church, the Law Offices of Sara Arthur, and Regional Management respectively donated money so three other agencies could have an intern for 2009.
“We thought this would be a constructive way to contribute,” says Katherine Kelly Howard, MSBA’s Immediate Past President and Regional Management’s General Counsel. She cited that taking on their own intern wouldn’t provide a full scope of the legal process, so Regional Management’s President Amy Macht and Howard decided donating a scholarship was the route to go.
Other firms, like Schochor, Federico & Staton, P.A., donated money to Law Links’ general funds.
Participation and donation to this finite service has provided infinite benefits for some employers.
One of Judge Young’s interns just finished clerking for him. Another intern briefly worked as an Assistant at Mead, Flynn and Gray during college.
“They never forget where they come from,” says Legal Aide Bureau’s Pia Taylor, “and just having that relationship established brings benefits.”