Most people don’t think of lawyers as teachers. But in Susan Leviton’s view, that’s exactly what they should be. “To be a lawyer,” says Leviton, who directs the Juvenile Law, Children's Issues and Legislative Advocacy Clinic, “you have to be able to tell somebody what they need to know very quickly and very succinctly.” Through the clinic, Leviton’s students learn to be great teachers—and great lawyers.
The clinic began with a more traditional juvenile justice focus, representing children in the juvenile court system. Leviton and her students discovered, however, that their clients suffered from greater problems than simply an encounter with the courts: they didn’t know how to navigate the system, to advocate for themselves, and sometimes even to make eye contact. Leviton wanted a way to intervene before the children’s lives were harmed. That’s where the Baltimore Freedom Academy (BFA) comes in.
BFA, a citywide public charter school serving grades 6–12, was founded by Khalilah Harris ’01. “BFA’s goal,” says Leviton, “is to build leaders.” The school focuses on academics along with social justice and activism in order to enable its students to transform themselves and their communities.
UM Carey Law students in Leviton’s clinic work toward this goal by teaching a year-long criminal law and advocacy class, where BFA students learn substantive law along with, Leviton says, “how to use language to advocate for what they need.” UM Carey Law students also coach the school’s mock trial team, serve as mentors to the Leading Ladies of Tomorrow, a club for girls at BFA’s high school, and work with community members on policy issues affecting the school.
The law and advocacy class meets in 10 sections of seven to eight BFA students. Each clinic student teaches one section and, after a training period, is responsible for conducting the class. The learning is a truly shared experience: the BFA students learn critical thinking and conflict resolution skills, while the UM Carey Law students gain a better understanding of the law through teaching it. And everyone learns empathy and how to build close relationships with people very different from themselves.
The relationships do not end when the academic year concludes. UM Carey Law students often stay in touch with their BFA students and mentees, some of whom now aspire to become lawyers themselves. The clinic builds bridges, opens doors and, says Leviton, “gives a voice” to young people who may never have had one before.
(Pictured: First row, l-r: Patrick Winter 3L, Helen Wolf 2L, Natalie Waryck 3L, Tubi Retta 3L, Alex Perkins 3L. Second row, l-r: Deborah Yi, Colleen Coffman 2L, LeeAnn Wurst 3L. Third row, l-r: Janell Henderson 3L, Llewellyn Earnest 2L.)