Students find Law Links internships worthwhile


November 16, 1999|By John J. Snyder | John J. Snyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LONG REACH High seniors Pia Chowdry and Sean Holcomb-Jones spent most of their summer vacation rubbing elbows with legal eagles.

They and seven other Howard County high school students were interns in Law Links. The program, brought to the county last summer, introduces young people to the workings of the law in business and life.

The program is co-sponsored by county bar associations and the Maryland State Bar Association's Citizenship Law-Related Education Program for the Schools of Maryland (CLREP).

A Howard County Law Links Recognition Reception was held Oct. 13 at the Ryland Group Inc. in Columbia. Yearbooks, certificates of completion and T-shirts were distributed to the nine participants.

The students were appreciative.

"I felt very lucky to get into the program," Sean said. "These people actually treated me like a person."

"I got to know exactly what it is to be a lawyer," Pia said. "I got to see the real side of it, not like the lawyers on `Ally McBeal' or `Law and Order.' "

Pia worked in the legal department of Ryland Homes. Sean worked in the Ellicott City law office of Steve Musselman.

Pia, 17, said she saw how law is involved in the day-to-day operations of a national business.

Sean, also 17, interned in a law office that often deals with domestic issues and works with families in crisis.

He said he learned about people with chaotic lives. He talked with social workers and visited shelters -- experiences the Oakland Mills resident had never had. Cases involving children in need were especially difficult, he said.

"It is a very emotionally charged court proceeding," he said. "As I watched, I thought about the differences between the people in the court and my life. People were yelling and screaming in court. I didn't expect that. It was a real eye-opener."

He had expected plaintiffs and defendants to behave with the same respect for the court as they would have in church, he said.

The interns did not always have a front-row seat in court. They had their share of scut work to do, such as taking calls and making copies.

Pia and Sean remember days filled with filing, sometimes broken up by a welcome assignment to observe traffic court. The interns were also invited to meet Howard County Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure.

"I was able to talk with her before the trials started," Pia said. "I was amazed when she told us that she had no idea what the disposition would be in any of the cases until she heard from everybody."

Pia had thought judges would have their minds made up in advance.

Leasure, vice chairwoman of CLREP's executive committee, volunteers as a judge in mock trials -- a program that brings high school students together in real courtrooms to decide imaginary cases concocted by the program's lawyers.

Pia and Sean were members of the Long Reach High Mock Trial All Star Team, which acts out the process of bringing a case to trial as defendants, plaintiffs and lawyers.

A semester of research and rehearsal and a semester of competitions are involved.

Their membership on the team led to the offers of internships for Pia and Sean.

"The whole focus of [CLREP] is on citizenship, law education and to give teachers the materials to work with students," Leasure said.

Ellery M. "Rick" Miller, executive director of the program, estimated that it has worked with more than 20,000 students since it was founded 25 years ago.

"We try to give the kids who have not had an opportunity a chance," he said. "In many ways, it has been wildly successful."

The organization, which began in Baltimore, has branched out to the counties. Miller said it was founded because "we felt that kids in Baltimore were seeing the skyscrapers and office buildings but didn't know what was going on inside them."

Leasure helped bring the Law Links program to Howard County last summer.

Long Reach, Mount Hebron, Wilde Lake and Atholton high schools were participants.

With Pia and Sean looking forward to college, both said a law career is not their first choice. But the insight gained from the Law Links experience helped them focus on long-range plans, they said.

Pia said she wants to be a doctor, and Sean -- a top high school tennis player -- wants to be a sports agent.

"I want to go to a college where I can change my major without changing the quality of my education," said Pia, who recently interviewed at Brown University. "Whether I am a ballerina, a doctor or a diplomat, I know I'll get a good education at Brown."

Sean said he hopes to go to Ohio State University for its sports management program.

"There are not a lot of African-American sports agents out there," he said. "I'd like to add one."

First birthday

On Saturday, Oakland Mills will celebrate the first anniversary of its rebuilt village center. Merchants and the community association have been planning the festivities together.

The day will begin at 11 a.m. with a ribbon cutting at the new fountain in front of Last Chance Saloon.

"The fountain is the final piece of the original plans," said Bill Gray, chairman of the HOME (Harness Oakland Mills Energies) Committee.

Metro Food Market is providing a cake for the occasion.

Oakland Mills High School's marching band and Stevens Forest Elementary School's chorus will perform at the opening.

Dean Turner, who bills himself as Turner, Dean of Magic, will provide entertainment from noon to 3 p.m., along with the Reggae band Unity.

Last Chance is providing free hot dogs.

Martha Wright, Turner's wife, will decorate children's faces, and Girl Scouts will help children make crafts.

If you know the name for the first wine of the season, or what dish is an original recipe found only in Lucky's China Inn, you may win a prize in the trivia contest.

Each store in the Merchants Association will have a question on a raffle entry, and winners will receive gifts from the stores.

Information: 410-730-4610.

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