October 2015 Bar Bulletin
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A Gold Medal for the Future of the Law Institute

 

 

It is with a mix of both regret and pride that I announce, along with KCBA Diversity Committee Chair Judge Patrick Oishi, the completion of KCBA's Future of the Law Institute.

FLI was launched in 2001 as a partnership between the King County Bar Association, King County Bar Foundation, Washington minority bar associations, the University of Washington and Seattle University schools of law, and many champions on the bench. Designed to address a "pipeline" diversity challenge of inspiring interest in the law among high school students from diverse and economically disadvantaged areas of King County, KCBA saw more than 890 students participate in this program over the next 14 years.

Students were exposed to the legal profession, including interacting with judges and lawyers, and participating in mock trials aimed at showcasing the skills needed and issues faced by attorneys. The program included a two-day "institute" hosted by the law schools, field trips to legal employers, summer internships, and scholarship funding for students entering college and law school. Hundreds of volunteer lawyers and judges also participated as mentors, coaches, faculty and even employers for these students.

While we are very proud of these successes, KCBA volunteer leaders and staff also have faced increasing challenges in recent years maintaining the program. For example, student participation has dramatically decreased, from more than 175 student applicants in 2011 to just 30 in 2014. The number of student summer internships fell from more than a dozen each summer in the mid-2000s to only four this year.

In the meantime, new options aimed at exposing high school students to the legal profession emerged. The YMCA's yearlong mock trial program grew in popularity in our state. Nationally funded groups began offering programs in our community funded by Seattle-based corporations. And, ultimately, public high school resources such as dedicated staff liaisons that worked year-to-year with nonprofit career projects like FLI were reprogrammed to other school needs.

Occasionally in KCBA's history, some important and successful bar programs reach a point when we must consider their completion. The early 1990s saw a popular telephone "ask a lawyer" recorded advice program end. In the late 2000s, our Drug Policy Project concluded its work just as our state adopted a voter referendum reforming drug laws. We celebrate the accomplishments of those and so many other initiatives over the bar's history.

After discussions with key FLI committee members whose passion and commitment to FLI are unmatched, we determined to regroup and refocus the bar's diversity resources. We have decided to bring the FLI program to a close, with great pride in the difference we were able to make for diverse and economically disadvantaged children in our community.

Looking forward, KCBA's Diversity Committee commits to identifying opportunities for the bar to engage in new pipeline efforts to bring more students with tremendous potential into the legal profession. Plans are already under way for a deep dive into assessing needs with our local law schools later this fall.

KCBA is proud of all that we have accomplished with FLI and salutes in particular the noteworthy stewardship of the program over the years by current co-chairs Aimee Decker and Binah Yeung, past chairs Megan McCloskey, Sandy Brown and Karen Murray, as well as countless volunteers over the years.

The legacy of FLI will join the distinguished history of our 129-year-old association. It is definitely another gold medal-winning program for us to celebrate.

Andrew Prazuch is KCBA's executive director. He can be reached by email (andrewp@kcba.org) or phone (206-267-7061).

 

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