The Judge Stephen E. O'Neil Young Lawyers Mentoring Program has been recognized and honored by the American Bar Association. In 2008 the Program was honored as the best law school public interest program in the United States. In 2009 the program was honored as the nation’s best law school diversity program.
The Young Lawyers Program was founded in 2000 by dedicated members of Loyola Law School’s Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and the Latino Law Students Association (La Raza). The students’ vision was to bring high school students from low income communities of color to the campus of Loyola Law School, to teach them about the law, encourage them to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees so they can become advocates for their communities.
The Young Lawyers Program is multicultural and student run. Student coordinators of all races create the educational program, teach the classes, raise money to support the program, choose the trial problem, and recruit mentors, high school participants and guest speakers.
Each week during the spring semester high school participants in the Young Lawyers Program are bused from their respective schools to Loyola’s campus to attend a two hour class. Program participants learn about legal careers, the legal system, evidence law, and trial techniques. The program culminates in April when the high school participants conduct mock trials. Judges from Los Angeles County Superior Courts preside over the trials.
Loyola students serve as mentors for each high school participant. The mentors help the high school students prepare for their roles as witnesses and attorneys. It is common for the mentors to talk to and work with their high school students outside of the regular class sessions. Mentors assist the participants with their trial preparation and high school work. Mentors often help program participants cope with personal issues as well.
The Young Lawyers Program began with an inaugural class of fifteen high school participants. The program’s namesake, the late Judge Stephen O’Neill, presided over the first mock trial. In 2010 the program served fifty five high school students (primarily African American and Latino) drawn from four Los Angeles high schools: Dorsey High School, Santee Learning Complex, Jordan New Tech High School and University High School.
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