Harris County attorney hosts two-week legal education program for high schoolers

Harris County attorney hosts two-week legal education program for high schoolers

Growing up with military parents who did not graduate from college, Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee did not know he could be a lawyer.

With his office’s inaugural two-week Summer Legal Academy, Menefee said he wanted to target kids from lower-middle class families and underserved neighborhoods and public schools to give them exposure to the legal profession he never had.

“If you’re in a household and your parents are just trying to make ends meet, I think the last thing on your mind is the day-to-day of what it means to become a lawyer,” Menefee told Community Impact Newspaper. “It’s important that our profession be representative of the communities that we live in, and that means giving access to knowledge about how to get there to folks from all walks of life.”

From July 8-21, 20 high school students from across the county are meeting in downtown Houston to learn about the path to becoming an attorney, the different types of law practices and how to get into law school, according to the program’s website.

Each day is a little different: On July 12, the students worked through logic puzzles similar to ones that might appear on the law school aptitude test, or LSAT. Later, a panel of admissions officers from the South Texas College of Law Houston and the Thurgood Marshall School of Law spoke to the high schoolers about getting into and navigating law school.

Menefee said he was most excited about the various panelists attending the program, as he worked to secure professionals who are representative of the great diversity of the bar in Harris County.

Perla Deleon, a class of 2022 graduate from Carl Wunsche Sr. High School in Spring ISD, said she found out about the program after her aunt sent her a post on social media. She lauded the program’s unique access to practicing attorneys.

“There’s nothing like this at the high school level,” Deleon said during a break in the program. “Everyone in Mr. Menefee’s office has been so nice and accommodating and willing to answer all of our questions. We’ve had lawyers come and we might ask them questions for two hours straight, and they put up with us.”

Students are paid $15 an hour for their participation; Menefee said the paid internship structure avoids a situation in which only children from affluent families could take time out of the summer to attend. Citing his own experience as a 16 year old working at H-E-B, he explained that unpaid programs take away opportunities for kids to provide for themselves or their families.

In its first edition, the program received over 200 applications for 20 spots, according to Roxanne Werner, director of communications and outreach for the office of the Harris County Attorney.

Menefee hopes to improve upon the program for next year by asking rigorous application questions to ensure future cohorts are as eager and inquisitive as the current one.

“I am just super confident that there’s like, a future federal judge in this group,” Menefee said. “These kids are legit. I told them I wish that when I was in high school, I would have had half of the organizational skills or focus or confidence that these kids have.”

Gibria Buckmire, a rising junior at the Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions, said she was excited to get paid to learn about her passion. As she continues her studies in biomedical engineering at DeBakey, she sees herself becoming a great patent attorney.

“My godmother would send me text messages: ‘What do you want to do when you grow up and why?’” Buckmire said. “I always say ‘lawyer’, and then I’ll give her these detailed explanations. And then at the end it’d be like, ‘plus I look really good in a pantsuit’.”

For more information about the program and the list of students in the 2022 cohort, visit the program’s website.

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