During a visit to Miami Law earlier this month, more than 50 high-school students got to experience, briefly, what life in college is like.
The one-day visit was organized by Miami STREET LAW, a legal outreach program that trains law students to teach their specialties at schools in Miami-Dade County. The visitors included teenagers from Coral Gables Senior High, Miami Senior High, Miami Central High and Women in Need of Greater Strength, the latter an alternative school for pregnant and post-partum girls.
"It was so rewarding to watch the students from our different schools interacting positively with one another," said Jessica Gross, a William M. Hoeveler Fellow who, as a member of the STREET LAW team, was focused on students at Coral Gables High School.
For many of the high-school students, it was the first time they had stepped onto a college campus. For the law students, it was an opportunity to share their school with another generation of potential lawyers.
Alex Schultes, Miami Law's assistant director of student recruitment, began the day with an informational video about life as an undergraduate at the University of Miami, adding key details about how to enroll. The students asked questions about scholarship opportunities, pre-paid college plans, and about pursuing a law degree.
Charrise Alexander, a STREET LAW team member, organized an interactive exercise that involved a mock DUI test. A student in high heels was prompted to undergo various field-sobriety tests. The exercise stirred up equal amounts of laughter and wobbly footwork.
As a way to inspire students to pursue a career in the legal field, Miami Law student Jonathan Hixon shared his thoughts on why he had elected to attend law school. He said he made the decision while interning for the public defender's office in the District of Columbia. A college senior at the time, he was helping to represent an 18-year-old man who had been charged with first-degree murder, assault with intent to kill and multiple charges of weapons possession. Hixon spent six months working on the case before it went to trial.
"I was shocked and amazed at the lack of evidence the government had," he said, describing as weak what little evidence there was. "I was sure he was innocent."
The students, leaning forward in their seats, listened intently for the story's conclusion. Hixon said the young man was declared not guilty and, "to this day, is living a happy, law-abiding life."
Hixon said the story "is what made me want to go to law school and become a criminal defense attorney."
The STREET LAW program was launched in Washington D.C. in 1972, and kicked off at Miami Law in 2001. Today the organization operates in 40 countries and at more than 70 law schools in the United States. The program is designed to increase the number of minorities in the legal profession. Only 11 percent of the people working in the legal profession in this country are non-Caucasian, a percentage that can dip below five percent when considering lawyers in private practice. Overall, roughly 30 percent of the United States' population is made up of minorities.