Lovell Johnson recalls a guy he looked up to in high school, a guy he thought could really succeed in life. Several years later, he ran into the guy. The guy was driving a cab. Nothing wrong with driving a cab, Johnson said as he counted the anecdote. But the guy said to him he could have gone to law school and made more of himself. And he didn’t.
Johnson decided he didn’t want to be like that guy. That guy was afraid to apply to law school; he was afraid to fail. So was Johnson. But Johnson overcame that, took the plunge, became a lawyer, and has been a well-known and successful Milwaukee County assistant district attorney for years.
“Don’t be afraid,” Johnson told about 150 Milwaukee high school students Thursday at a Youth Law Day conference at Eckstein Hall. “Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it.”
That was one of the strong underlying themes as the students from a half dozen schools got a dose of knowledge about what it’s like to be a lawyer and a lot of encouragement to pursue that possibility.
Encouragement such as Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Mary Triggiano offering to meet individually with any of the students who wanted to talk about the possibility of a career as a lawyer.
Encouragement such as Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Carl Ashley telling them, “Don’t let anybody else tell you you can’t be successful.”
Encouragement such as Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm giving them a similar message over lunch, and other judges, lawyers, Marquette Law School students, Milwaukee Public Schools officials, and others reinforcing the message throughout the four-hour event.
Encouragement such as Marquette Law School Dean Joseph D. Kearney telling them he hoped the insights they gained in the program would lead them to consider careers as lawyers or in other roles in the legal system.
Encouragement such as Circuit Judge Marshall Murray presiding over a mock trial in which law students represented a plaintiff, a high school girl, who was suing a defendant, her boyfriend, who backed out of taking her to prom by posting a Facebook message to that effect on the night before the prom. She sought about $500 for expenses related to getting ready for prom and $2,000 for emotional damage.
After the “trial,” the students split up into a dozen “juries.” Seven of them found that the boyfriend should compensate the girlfriend, generally awarding a small portion of what she sought. Five found the boyfriend should not be required to pay her, although one said he should be required to send her a written apology for how he handled telling her.
Almost all of the students were African American, Latino, or Hmong. The program was supported by DiscoverLaw.org, a program of the national Law School Admission Council aimed at increasing diversity in the legal profession.
Was the program a success? Based on the high level of engagement and good conduct of the students, the answer appeared to be yes. Based on the couple dozen or so students who raised their hand when asked at one point if they would consider going to law school, the answer was probably yes – that was still a decent number and at least the majority were being honest that it wasn’t for them. And based on the content and smooth execution of the program itself and the positive messages it promoted, regardless of what career path students might pursue, you can be confident the answer was yes.