Law School Partners with Farrington and Roosevelt Justice Academies for a Day of Law – and Life - Tips

March 14, 2013

Sixty-five juniors and seniors from the Law & Justice Academies at Farrington and Roosevelt high schools had lessons both in law - and life - during a recent visit to the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawai‘i.

It was part of the third annual “Discover Law Conference” that brings public high school students to the Law School to inspire their future.

Not only did the high school students hear about key aspects of legal education and strategies to calm their nerves before major undertakings, but they saw a crime in action – and then had to try to identify the suspect.

Associate Faculty Specialist Kenneth Lawson staged a rapid-fire theft in front of the students’ eyes – and then asked them to try to pick out the man who ran through the classroom and nabbed his jacket. Lawson projected six photos on the screen and more than half the students chose from among the photos.

All were wrong.

“His picture is not there,” declared Lawson as the young ‘thief’ – a law student working on the Hawai‘i Innocence Project for which Lawson is Associate Director – came back into the room, smiled at the assemblage, and returned the jacket. Lawson’s point: Eyewitness testimony is often faulty and has often been proven wrong in an overwhelming number of cases nationally.

“Since DNA testing became available (beginning in 1989), 300 people have been found to be innocent of the crimes that sent them to prison,” Lawson said. “In 75 percent of those cases the person was wrongly identified.”

During their day at the Law School, the high school students were encouraged to think about law as a career. Richardson Law School often partners with both high schools to offer students a closer view of a career they might want to choose.

“I hope someday you will consider being the person who makes the law,” Professor Mari J. Matsuda told the students, encouraging them to “get in the habit of speaking up” for what they believe in and becoming active in the issues of their community.

“It’s a whole bunch of fun to become a community activist, to be a citizen in charge of your own destiny,” she said. “City Hall, the State Capitol…those buildings belong to you. You will soon be paying taxes.”

Matsuda emphasized that it has been concerned citizens speaking up who stopped development on the slopes of Diamond Head, who stopped the bombing of Kaho‘olawe, who are now putting pressure on the Legislature to undo passage in 2011 of the Public Land Development Corporation that fast-tracks public/private development of state lands by bypassing certain zoning regulations and county permitting requirements.

“I hope someday you will come to Law School,” she told the high-schoolers. “In Hawai‘i we have judges from both your high schools.”

Professor Linda Hamilton Krieger took them through an exercise in stress management, teaching the students how to breathe deeply - something she practiced to gain self-control during her days as a trial lawyer in District Court in San Francisco.

“If you can control your breath, you can control your voice, and if you can control your voice you can project an air of confidence, certainty, and, ultimately, persuasiveness,” she told the students. “People will see you as a serious person.”

Laurie Tochiki, a retired Law School associate dean, focused on the skill of negotiation, critically important both for Law School and life. And she gave the students a toolbox of tips:

  • When you negotiate, ask a lot of questions to find out the needs of the other person.
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Stay open-minded in order to find a solution.

Farrington teacher Jennifer Hirotsu, who chairs the Law & Justice Academy at the high school, said the partnership with the Law School has been tremendous for her students.

“It gives them an opportunity to really understand there’s so much more out there than just what they see in criminal law on TV. The Law School is always wonderful about saying ‘If we can do it, you can too.’ It’s a strong, positive message about their future.

“It has also been so important to have law students come to our classrooms so our students see they’re not much different than themselves. I see the encouragement in my students. That vibe from the law students is just wonderful.”

Law student Michelle K. Moorhead, one of the visit organizers, sees the conference is beneficial for both high school and law students. “Public service is a guiding principle of the Law School … By interacting with the community and teaching substantive law, students learn the essence of the attorney-client relationship, practical applications of legal concepts and communicating in a way a client will understand.”

For high schoolers, the partnership “allows students from diverse backgrounds to learn and live the law,” said Moorhead. “And they learn that skills learned as a lawyer are beneficial in all aspects of their lives, from listening, to critical-thinking to problem-solving.”

Many of the high school students are already working on projects in which they believe. Senior Keli Aspiras had scheduled a meeting with a legislator to talk about legislation to track purchasers of guns after they’ve been sold, while Shai-lynn Ranchez-Langit is looking at the need for “clean and sober” homes in working toward solving issues of homelessness in Hawai‘i.

For 17-year-old senior Devon Rosete, working with law students and the Law School has only deepened his passion to “help people and change the world” – in particular to work on ways to stop cyber-bullying.

“I had no knowledge of the Law School until law students came to help us with a mock trial,” said Rosete. “I was one of the lawyers. I learned to take it easy up there (in front of everyone), to breathe, and that it’s going to be alright.  You’re not going to die up there!”

Law student Mike Dunford, who helped host the visit by the high-schoolers said the partnership between the Law School and the high school students is definitely a win-win.

“It’s important for them to see there’s a lot they can do,” he said.