'How I heretofore spent my summer ...' Camp ives youths a taste of law school

July 31, 1991|By Michael Pollick

For 45 students, Monday was the first day of classes in constitutional and consumer law. Later they'll learn about jurisprudence and contract law and pick up tips on effective brief-writing and oral arguments.

Wait a minute, though. While some of these kids are college age, others are only 15 years old -- a little young for law school.

The school they're attending is the National LawCamp in Washington, a two-week summer camp in which five full-time law school professors give them a taste of what studying law will mean.

While summer camps specializing in computer science, music and other vocational skills have been around for a while, LawCamp is one year old. It's the brainchild of Chris Salamone, who is a senior partner in a law firm in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Why would a parent spend $1,495 plus travel and incidentals to send a child on a trip like this? Moreover, why would a kid want to go?

By the time the campers go home, says Mr. Salamone, they will have a good sense of "what a law school education and the law school experience are all about." Also, the course is designed to ease the transition into law school. "The first time they walk into a law school class won't really be the first time," he said.

Using active law school teachers and not sugarcoating the information are key elements of the program, Mr. Salamone says. Teachers are told to present material the same way they do in law school. After an orientation meeting Sunday, students were handed a formidable first batch of homework, including reading the Constitution and the Supreme Court decision in the famous abortion case, Roe vs. Wade.

For some youngsters, this bedtime reading might be a dud, but for Jake Feldman of Potomac, an honors student heading into his sophomore year at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, it is nearly nirvana. "I've always wanted to be a lawyer," he said. "I was probably 6 when I came up with the decision."

Last summer, Mr. Salamone's summer school company, Pre-Law Concepts Inc., started with one two-week session at Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla. This year, he branched out to include this session, held at Georgetown Conference Center on the campus of Georgetown University in Washington.

While Mr. Salamone is not in the black yet with his fledgling business, he says he is close. And next summer, a third camp will be held in the Los Angeles area.

In addition to the classes, LawCamp includes room and board and field trips to law-related offices in Washington, including those of the American Trial Lawyers Association, the FBI and the Supreme Court.

Back in "school" -- an austere conference room with pitchers of ice water and bowls of candy on the tables -- Monday's first class dealt with constitutional law.

Steve Friedland, a professor who earned his law degree at Harvard University, was hip-looking, with hair long in back, baggy, black pleated pants, tennis shoes and a tie.

An engaging teacher, Mr. Friedland started with a monologue, then veered quickly into that law school standard, the Socratic method of teaching -- using repeated questioning to elicit the truth.

"So there I was at a cocktail party with my martini, and all of a sudden someone comes up to me and says, 'Hey, I hear you're a lawyer. What's a court?' "

Students were pressed for definitions, answers, reasons as Mr. Friedland moved through the court system, defining the levels of federal courts, the distinctions between federal and state courts and the nature of the Constitution.

One of the older students taking this all in was Patrice Garnes, who is from Waldorf and is entering her senior year in college.

She has been

thinking about law school and is president of the pre-law society at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.

"I'm trying to find out if I want to spend three years and close to $100,000 on law school," she said.

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