Back in Style: 'Street Law' program event on tap this weekend

By Rick Haglund
Legal News

The emergence of General Motors Corp. from bankruptcy last summer as a reorganized, viable company could help some Pontiac High School students pursue a legal career.
Following a one-year hiatus because of its financial crisis, GM resumed its “Street Law” program in September and is sponsoring a Street Law Immersion Day on Saturday, Feb. 20.
The event will take place on the Auburn Hills campus of Thomas M. Cooley Law School and is expected to draw about 50 Pontiac students wanting to learn more about the legal system and possibly attend law school.
“It gives them an opportunity to see that there’s more to the law than criminal law,” said Lionel Anderson, a GM intellectual property attorney who heads the program for the automaker. “A lot of kids don’t have any experience with what the law is all about beyond what they see on TV.”
GM is involved in the program because of its commitment to diversity internally and in legal profession, Anderson said.
Many of the Pontiac students are from minority groups.
“All of our customer bases around the world are very diverse,” Anderson said. “GM is committed to making the company as diverse as its customers.”
This year’s Street Law Immersion Day will feature a mock negotiation session in which students try come to an agreement in solving a legal dispute. There also will be various seminars on legal skills, training and careers.
Attorneys from GM and the Dykema law firm, as well as Cooley faculty will lead the day’s events.
The Street Law program (www.streelaw.org) was started in 1972 by a group of Georgetown University Law Center students to teach District of Columbia high school students about the practical aspects of the law and the legal system.
“Street Law” was a popular slang term for the program used by it young participants at the time, and the name has stuck. It has developed into a legal curriculum used in more than 30 countries.
“The program was aimed at inner-city high school students as a way of trying to attract underrepresented minorities into the legal profession,” said Christopher Johnson, director of the graduate program in corporate law and finance at Cooley.
Johnson, who was then GM’s North American general counsel, brought the program to Detroit’s Denby and Southwestern high schools in 2004. It’s now offered only at Pontiac High School.
Street Law isn’t just a one-day program, though. Lawyers from GM, Dykema and Cooley go to Pontiac High School once or twice a week to talk to students about issues in the legal profession.
GM also offers about a half-dozen paid, six-week internships every summer to students in the program.
The interns visit GM manufacturing and testing facilities, and assist lawyers with variou tasks.
The internships expose many of them to the world of work for the first time.
They learn such skills as dressing appropriately, arriving on time and being respectful to coworkers, Anderson said.
“There’s a level of maturity they reach by the time they leave here,” he said. “The internships help them grow.”
GM also offered partial college scholarships to Street Law students, but suspended the awards last year because of its bankruptcy.
Johnson said none of the students in the program have reached law school yet, but he deems it a success.
“I always felt that what GM has done in this program has motivated young people to continue their education beyond high school and that’s a valuable public service, as well,” he said.
Johnson also credited his former employer with continuing the Street Law program at a time when its legal staff has been downsized and faces intense business pressures as GM rebuilds.
“This is one of the programs that has survived and I’m proud of the staff for undertaking it,” Johnson said.
 

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