Marsh & McLennan Mentors Bklyn HS’s New Legal Academy
Two groups huddle on either side of the boardroom overlooking a sunny urban panorama, enthusiastically negotiating their clients’ claims with an insurance company—just like a real case. The only difference: the average age of the opponents is 16.
The boardroom is in Marsh & McLennan Companies’ (MMC) New York office, site of the recent culmination of the firm’s collaboration with the students of Brooklyn High School for Public Services’ nascent Legal Academy. For months, attorneys from MMC came into Legal Academy on a regular basis to work with students for the final simulation and for encounters with law later in life. Attorneys had visited the school, encouraging students to learn the ins and outs of law via games such as the wheel of misfortune, which entailed matching insurance options to unfortunate events.
Corporate Legal Diversity Pipeline made the match. Pipeline is an initiative of Street Law and Association of Corporate Council that matches corporate law firms with local high school students in order to engage diverse people to pursue a legal profession early in life.
After each side negotiated—one side made significantly more money than the other—the lawyers and students reflected on the negotiation process. They all recognized that bargaining skills used in court are only applicable only to law. Kevin Crowley, an MMC attorney, said he saw “fire in everyone’s eyes,” during the process.
At the end of the day, the students gathered in the auditorium to evaluate the program. “You were our guinea pigs today,” Chief Legal Ethics Officer & VP of Litigation, at Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc. said of the pilot program.
Patricia Anderson, teacher of the Legal Academy’s first students involved in Pipeline, stressed the importance of continuing the program. “What more can we do with the group?” she asked. She said she hopes the program will “show them that there is more to the legal profession than what they see on TV.”
The next step is a continued mentoring program. “The goal of Street Law is to promote diversity so that the best and brightest are interested in and anxious to enter the legal profession,” Crowley said. “Fear of the unknown may have existed before this program,” he added.
Student feedback was phenomenal when students read from their evaluations. Erica Moody, who claims her attention span is “really short,” said everything was an “attention grabber.”
“My interest got higher in being a lawyer,” Nikita Felix said.
“It expanded me,” Nataki Hemmings said. “Negotiations, I loved them. It’s set. I know I want to go into corporate law,” she added.
Lee Arbetman, director of US Programs for Street Law is also coordinator of the US Department of Justice’s national law-related education program, Youth for Justice, and an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University, helped launch pipeline. He co-teaches a Supreme Court Summer Institute for teachers. Arbetman stressed not only the pipeline’s goals in involving diverse groups in legal professions, but also in teaching law skills that are applicable to daily life, such as negotiation. “Street law is practical law,” he said.
Arbetman said that school visits and games were “attempts to work off kids’ brains, not adults’ brains.” When he was studying in law school, Arbetman realized, “the stuff here could be remolded and reshaped into excellent teaching materials. It’s too important to leave it all to the lawyers.”#