Law & Justice Mentoring Program matches high school students with legal aid internships

The Law & Justice Mentoring Program (LJMP) was launched in January of 2022 by the Philadelphia School District’s Office of Strategic Partnerships and the Pepper Center for Public Service at Troutman Pepper. LJMP is a pipeline initiative aimed at connecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) students within the School District of Philadelphia, underrepresented in the local legal community, to critical pre-law opportunities and mentorship.

The pilot year for the program was launched at Kensington Health Sciences Academy (KHSA), with 20 students participating during the school year and nine of those students continuing on to participate in internships with legal aid organizations in Philadelphia over the summer. During the school year, the students examined five current, key legal issues (Criminal Justice Reform/Mass Incarceration, Access to Healthcare, Immigration, Gun Violence, and Educational Disparities) using a collaborative problem-solving approach. Philadelphia's best and brightest attorneys, including a number of the Bar Foundation's nonprofit partners, volunteered their time and expertise to have open and honest conversations with the students on these topics. The students also each developed a mentor relationship with a law student or attorney mentor.

Eligible students were then placed with a legal advocacy organization for a 4-6 week internship, which included a stipend for participants. Funds were raised from area lawyers and law firms. The Bar Foundation was proud to support this innovative program by administering and coordinating the payment of stipends to eligible students. Six of the Bar Foundation's nonprofit partners hosted a student: Public Interest Law Center, HIAS Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Innocence Project, Philadelphia VIP, Ceasefire PA, and Homeless Advocacy Project. The students completed reflective journaling assignments throughout their internship experience and were supported by Fellows at the Pepper Center for Public Service at Troutman Pepper who served as "journaling mentors."

Here are some experts from participating students:

“This week alone, I've felt myself learning more than I have in the entirety of my 2022 school year, maybe because it’s been more interesting...I feel like I'm in good hands and I will be more knowledgeable by the end of this internship, although I'd like it to not end. After completing my first week of the internship, I am excited to learn more about the real estate and business sides of law, which will help me on my path to becoming a real estate attorney.” -KHSA Senior

“The most prevailing experience I have had by far during my time here is that I really don’t know anything. More enjoyably, the fact that I am not the smartest person in the room, does not make me upset. Rather, it emphasizes how much more there is left for me to learn. My first week was all about further developing the skill of adaptation, especially in a place where I’m not the expert, or at least, not that well informed about certain areas. It’s been constant learning from the moment I arrived and it doesn’t stop even when I leave. I’ve found myself actively thinking about things I heard of or learned at the Innocence Project. Moreover, it has helped me reinforce my reading skills…Ever since I got here I’ve been able to engage in long complicated readings. They’re the most difficult documents I’ve read and even then, somehow, someway, I am fine with it. I don’t find it draining or time consuming. Instead, I find myself submerged. I did not realize I was capable of doing such a thing without becoming bored or distracted…” -KHSA Senior

"I went into work today and got to see the last bit of a case that lasted three days. It was a very surreal moment for me sitting in that courtroom, so I just wanted to say thank you. This opportunity is worth more to me than you will ever know." -KHSA Junior

The LJMP hopes to continue to grow and expand in the future, with the ultimate goal of increasing student exposure to and enrollment in local law schools. The Bar Foundation is proud to be a partner in this program and is grateful to the PSD's Office of Strategic Partnerships and the Pepper Center for Public Service at Troutman Pepper for putting it together.