Encouraging creativity: State Bar takes Law Day contest to where the kids are

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

Have a great idea for a coloring book that illuminates important issues of law and history? Good news: The State Bar of Michigan's third annual Law Day creative contest is now open for entries.

"We wanted to 'take the contest where the kids are' to try and generate their interest in an era of social media and electronic communications," says Margret Krasnoff, who is Of Counsel to Fink & Valvo PLLC in Ann Arbor and led the committee that revised the competition in 2011. "Last year we had an entry that was an excellent electronic coloring book for kids. It told the story and you could download the coloring book and print it."

The contest now has no constraints on the form an entry can take. Essays, debates, mock trials, podcasts, dramatic or musical plays, re-enactments, short documentaries, board games, video games and more are welcome. Electronic submissions are also highly encouraged.

"Now entrants are encouraged to be as creative as possible," says Kristin Arnett, who does estate planning, probate and trust administration and family law at the Hubbard Law Firm PC in Lansing and now heads the Law Day subcommittee. "You could do a dance. A lot of what we get are dramatizations and reenactments. Maybe a child's not the best writer. This gives them the opportunity to be creative in a lot of different ways. It's amazing to see what these kids do. It makes it interesting for children who might not otherwise be interested."

As soon as she saw the changes taking place in the contest, Arnett knew she wanted to be involved.

"I've been involved with the contest for three years," she says. "I arrived just as they were revamping the idea of the Law Day Contest. I had really wanted to get involved with this particular committee because it's law-related education and public outreach. They asked me to be chair this year--my third--and I accepted."

Every year the American Bar Association announces a theme and the State Bar applies it to Michigan. The 2014 Law Day theme is "American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters." Contestants can pick from "Legal Milestones" that are on the website.

The program has the dual role of teaching young people about the law and civics.

"It's important for children to know how law plays a role in their everyday life," says Arnett. "Sometimes kids don't think about the law until they're older and perhaps get in some trouble, but young people need to understand that the law is involved in every aspect of their lives now and that it's a positive thing."

The contest is also no longer limited to schools.

"We broadened the scope of who we reached out to," Krasnoff says. "A community college computer instructor could have a class design a video game. Or a county bar association might have a group of people who want to dramatize a theme using one of the Michigan Milestones. The audience could be a classroom, it could be a boys and girls club, it could be a scout troop or even a community picnic on the Fourth of July."

The Michigan Legal Milestones program began in 1986 to highlight the state's important cases, laws, places, and individuals. Bronze plaques commemorating the history of each of the 38 milestones can be viewed around the state.

Any Michigan Legal Milestone can be used in a submission, but four milestones suggested by organizers for consideration are "One Person, One Vote," "Eva Belles' Vote," "Sojourner Truth," and "Freedom Road."

Winning entries will illustrate the Michigan Legal Milestone chosen and explain how the subject of the milestone was beneficial for citizens. The 2013 winners can be viewed on the bar's website at http://michbar.org.

Cash prizes will be awarded including a $1,000 top prize and up to two $750 second-tier prizes. As many as three $500 third-tier prizes may also be awarded. All winning submissions will be eligible for statewide recognition and entry into the national-level American Bar Association Law Day awards competition.

Looking ahead to the future, the contest may evolve to take into account some of the factors of its new incarnation.

"Eventually, we may have to create divisions for the entries," Krasnoff said. "You can't have a submission from a fifth grade class competing with a community college or adult entry. But we haven't crossed that bridge yet."

In addition to the benefit to the community, Krasnoff believes that attorneys themselves can benefit from the competition.

"This a way for lawyers to make an impact in their communities by demonstrating involvement and taking the lead on sponsoring submissions," she said.

Entries in the 2014 State Bar of Michigan Law Day creative contest are due on Friday, April 4,. For more details about the contest rules and resources visit http://michbar.org or contact SBM Communications Manager Samantha Meinke at 517-346-6332 or smeinke@mail.michbar.org.

Published: Fri, Jan 24, 2014


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