Teaching the Future

Honigman Academy introduces students to a career in law

By Thomas Franz
BridgeTower Media Newswires
DETROIT — A group of high school students are learning the tricks of the trade at a downtown Detroit law firm.

About 20 students from Cody Academy of Public Leadership High School have been visiting Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP this semester to experience what a career in law is like.

The program is called the Honigman Academy and has evolved out of a partnership between Honigman, Cody and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

Khalilah V. Spencer, the firm’s Inclusion, Equity & Social Responsibility partner, said the idea for the program came about internally at Honigman a few years ago to address pipeline issues in the legal practice and a desire to do more in the community.

“It’s been in the works for two to three years in terms of trying to get connected with a school that we thought the legal academy would fit well with while also working in partnership with United Way to help facilitate the arrangement,” Spencer said.

The majority of the students participating in the program are sophomores in Cody’s law pathway program.

“We are a link-learning career pathways school,” said Cody Principal John Matthews. “It’s in its fourth year total, and the goal is to create a school culture where you have your basic classes geared towards a particular career. For our particular school, it’s law and law enforcement. We revamped the class offerings to gear students into an understanding of those two careers.”

Examples of revamping the curriculum include installing forensics as the third science class after biology and chemistry, and reading legal briefs in English classes.

By mid-March, students from Cody had completed three of eight visits to the firm.

A typical visit starts around 9:30 a.m. with a welcome introduction. Attorneys and staff act as mentors during the session.

The firm typically gives an idea of what the law is about and also incorporates a group activity so students can apply what they’ve learned to the curriculum.

“We’re finishing up education on how the legislative process works,” Spencer said. “We had the students look at a city ordinance dealing with the curfew for minors, and really unpack what that ordinance does, what they believe the pros and cons were, and then they share with the group a particular perspective.”

Matthews said there have been two outcomes of the program that he wasn’t expecting to occur when it launched.

“There’s career awareness in terms of understanding everything that goes into the legal field and all of the opportunities within it. Then in terms of being a citizen, they started getting a better understanding of why many of the laws exist, why attorneys, judges and the whole legal system handle cases the way they handle them,” Matthews said.

“It’s helped them understand from their perspective as a child in the inner city, the responsibility they have to be a good citizen and why these laws and rules come into play.”

Spencer also visits Cody to continue working with students on vocabulary and maintain the students’ interest in the project.

“I think it’s been really great. I think we’ve gotten the kids’ attention. They’re excited when they get here. I think it really gets to the heart of what we were going for, which is getting young people who don’t have access, access to what lawyers do and hopefully those students will aspire to be lawyers later on in their career,” Spencer said.

Matthews added that the program has given his students a wider lens of the world by providing experiences that others would take for granted.

“They generally look at the world through a narrow view, through what they see in their community and that alone. By just coming to the law firm and being there, seeing how that office exists. You go downtown and see the big buildings, you never actually thought what was inside those buildings and why. They also understand now the education that goes into it, and also all of the support careers that support jobs and careers that are available with the different law firms,” Matthews said.


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