Published Online:

St. Louis Summer Law Internship Hailed as National Model

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

ST. LOUIS--Mark Zoole is lecturing the class on the cross-examination of witnesses.

"Do not quarrel with the witness,'' the veteran trial lawyer advises. "The jury identifies not with the lawyer but with the witness.''

The eager young people in the class scribble furiously as Mr. Zoole suggests other tips for their upcoming mock trial.

"Diction is very important,'' he says. "Concentrate on speaking slowly. I guarantee you will not sound like a dweeb.''

And when it comes to raising objections, Mr. Zoole cautions against rising to do so on every minor point, or else "you'll look like a jerk.''

Mr. Zoole is addressing not a law-school or even a college-age audience, but a group of high school students from inner-city St. Louis.

The students are members of a novel summer-internship program in which they are paid to work for eight weeks at local law firms, government agencies, and public-interest law organizations. Many of the 62 interns spent several mornings last month preparing for the mock-trial competition.

The internship program, now in its second year, is sponsored by the St. Louis school district and the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis. It is open only to public high school students from the district, and most of the participants are African-Americans from the city's poorer neighborhoods.

Demystifying Lawyers

The program has several goals: to provide summer employment to youths who might not otherwise get jobs; to expose the students to the legal profession and to the work routine of the business world; and to help keep them on a track toward college and a professional career.

"The students are able to see themselves taking on these positions one day,'' said Gladys Smith, the coordinator of the program for the St. Louis district.

The program is funded this year by 72 participating law firms, who pay the wages for one or two interns or sponsor an intern's employment at a nonprofit or government agency.

Terrance Good, the president of the bar association, said the internships expose students to a profession they may know only through distorted images from television or the movies.

"This demystifies lawyers and law firms for the students,'' he said.

He also pointed out that few large law firms have a tradition of employing high school students.

"We've had law students and college students and maybe the children of partners,'' Mr. Good said. "Here we are reaching out to a segment of the community that has not been part of the old-boy network.''

The program has been so successful that its organizers have already expanded it to the accounting profession and are looking at recruiting stockbrokerages, engineering and architectural firms, and other professions to participate.

Meanwhile, the American Bar Association has touted the St. Louis program as a nationwide model, and local bar associations in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City have replicated it this summer. The organizers here have published a 30-page guide for developing such a program and have had further inquiries from around the nation.

Besides aiding young people, the internship program serves another purpose--good public relations for the legal profession, whose reputation has been battered by media and real-life stereotypes of greedy lawyers clogging up the justice system.

"It's no secret that lawyers don't have the best image,'' admitted Mr. Good, who quickly added that any public-relations benefit received by the program also helps the interns.

'A Lot of Research'

In a modern office tower in downtown St. Louis, two interns have been spending the summer at the corporate law firm of Armstrong, Teasdale, Schlafly, and Davis. The firm's boardroom offers a panoramic view of the Gateway Arch and the overflowing Mississippi River below.

Danielle Berkley, a 17-year-old who recently graduated from high school, has learned that many of the firm's lawyers spend relatively little time in court.

"But they do a lot of research,'' she said. "They are always busy.''

Ms. Berkley participated in the internship program last summer at Armstrong, Teasdale, and the firm decided to keep her on in a part-time job throughout the school year.

She spends much of her time doing clerical work, such as typing and photocopying, but she has also accompanied the firm's lawyers to observe court sessions and depositions. She would like to become a lawyer herself, perhaps specializing in the health-care field.

Charles Tillman, the other intern at the firm, has decided he does not want to become a lawyer but an accountant. He has been able to work with accountants and other financial experts employed by the firm, and he has enjoyed the chance to work in a professional environment.

"Most teens work at fast-food restaurants,'' he said, noting his own weekend job at a McDonald's franchise. "I have to adapt to this type of dress, though.''

Both interns wear the free uniforms provided by the program--a blue blazer, khaki slacks, and a white button-down shirt with a tie. The original benefactor of the program, a local lawyer named Thomas C. Hullverson, believed that the young participants should be provided with professional dress so they could better blend in with the employees of their firms without having to worry about purchasing their own dress clothes.

The students are paid $5.50 per hour for a 40-hour work week, slightly more than the minimum wage. They are expected to report for work on time and follow instructions from a supervisor in their firm or agency.

Steven N. Cousins, a partner with Armstrong, Teasdale and the co-chairman of the bar association's summer-internship committee, said the participating law firms have been "uniformly impressed'' with the students.

"When you consider the absence of role models in the African-American community, the opportunity for these young people to sit down with a lawyer is very beneficial,'' he said. "We let these kids know that this is accessible to them. They can work hard, get the grades, and get into law school.''

Expanding to Other Professions

The program was launched last summer with 52 interns; the highlight of their summer was a visit and speech by Vice President Quayle.

This summer, 278 students applied for the program, but there were jobs available for only 62, said Ms. Smith. The students were selected on the basis of an application form, teacher recommendations, and an interview.

The program expanded this summer with 10 jobs in the city police department and two slots in accounting firms. The organizers are working on recruiting the other professions for next year.

Some of the law interns have found that by proving themselves to be responsible, they are given more serious work assignments.

Elmer Jackson, a high school student assigned to the St. Louis Mayor's office, has split his time between the Mayor's policy staff and the city's legal office.

"You can tell how well a person is doing by the demand for his services,'' said Tim Person, a top aide to Mayor Freeman Bosley. "Elmer really helps us get some things done here. It's a level above grunt work.''

Mr. Jackson has helped city officials respond to the flooding of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, which has affected several residential neighborhoods in the city.

He said he has seen firsthand how political decisions can often anger the community, such as when the Mayor ordered some residents to evacuate their homes in anticipation of floodwaters that did not come for several more days.

"I've figured out how frustrating it can be to govern,'' the student said. Nonetheless, he has plans to attend Morehouse College and then law school, and contemplates a career in politics.

"I really don't understand why more young people don't get involved'' in civic affairs, he said. "What they want in life they want now, and it is leading them down the wrong path.''

Virtually everyone connected with the internship program stressed the importance of the interns' interaction with the positive role models they encounter.

"Most urban youth who come from impoverished backgrounds don't have role models in their families who are attorneys or engineers or other professionals,'' said David J. Mahan, the superintendent of the St. Louis district. "Most of these young people will probably not become lawyers. But they will interact with professionals, and their daily world is really a new vista.''

But the program also benefits the school district, Mr. Mahan said, by exposing the members of the city's legal profession, who tend to live in comfortable suburbs, to young urban residents.

"For the people in the firms, it has reshaped their view of young people, especially urban young people,'' Mr. Mahan said.

Web Only

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login |  Register
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories

Viewed

Emailed

Commented