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Baltimore City high school student taking part in the Rosie the Lawyer Program at Wright, Constable & Skeen, LLP. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)
Baltimore City high school student taking part in the Rosie the Lawyer Program at Wright, Constable & Skeen, LLP. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Sisters in Law

Rosie the Lawyer program teaches high-school girls about legal profession

For many high school students, knowledge of the legal professions is limited to what they’ve seen on television shows or experienced in their own lives.

In an effort to open the doors to law school to young women from Baltimore high schools and give them a better grasp of the range of practice areas that an attorney can choose from, Wright, Constable & Skeen LLC has partnered with the CollegeBound Foundation to craft a program that encourages girls to pursue careers in the law.

The third year of the Rosie the Lawyer program culminated in December, following gatherings in which this year’s 20 student participants met with a local judge and visited a courthouse, learned about proper business etiquette and heard from women attorneys about how they got to where they are today, said Lisa Sparks, an associate with Wright, Constable & Skeen and an adjunct professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

“We just love the opportunity to expose the profession of law and the image of a successful woman attorney from a variety of perspectives — some of us are in court, some are transactional, some have kids and some don’t,” Sparks said. “There are lots of different paths for a career in law and ways for women to create a life and career that they want.”

Larayna Haire, 17, of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute said her favorite part of the program was the session on proper etiquette. Haire said she decided to take part in Rosie the Lawyer because she hopes to become a military attorney.

“I’ve always wanted to be the first female in my family to go into the military,” she said.

Dejae Yates, a 17-year-old who also attends Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, said she is interested in criminal prosecution, an aspect of the law she was first exposed to by watching shows like “Law & Order.” Visiting the courthouse and talking with Baltimore Circuit Judge Audrey J.S. Carrion was the highlight of the program, she said.

Although not all the participants listed becoming an attorney as their top aspiration — the young women also counted careers in pediatrics, forensic science and police work among their goals — one of the major aims of the program is to show the students that the legal field is broad and includes careers outside of criminal law and family law.

Female lawyers at Wright, Constable & Skeen who practice in areas such as construction law and maritime law spoke with the students to give them a better understanding of what a career in one of those fields looks like. They encouraged them to pursue the path they are interested in, regardless of whether it’s common for women to do so.

“Those industries are dominated by men, and the attorneys who represent those industries are similarly dominated by men,” Sparks said.

As a first-generation college student, Sparks said she experienced firsthand the struggle that many of the girls, who are mainly sophomores and juniors in high school, are feeling as they near graduation and prepare for their futures.

“I navigated that on my own and put myself through college and law school, and I feel like I have very much in common with these young ladies,“ she said. “Most are the first in their families to go to college; they don’t have those kind of role models at home to know how to dress appropriately in an office environment or how to conduct themselves.”

During this year’s final session in December, Annice Brown, a third-year student at UB Law, shared her own experience earning a full scholarship to attend law school with the Rosie the Lawyer participants.

While in high school in Baltimore, Brown thought she would pursue a career in dentistry, but decided to delve into the legal world instead, she said.

“If I recognized something I thought was an injustice, I would automatically get very involved and very invested in it,” Brown said. “I definitely wanted to defend people and take up for people.”

Alicia Wilson, a partner with Gordon Feinblatt LLC in Baltimore, also spoke to the students. Wilson talked about the importance of forming professional relationships, even at a young age, to future career success.

During an early internship with the Public Justice Center, Wilson said she also learned to make a conscious effort to go above and beyond expectations, even when taking on the most inconsequential tasks, a practice she advised the program participants to adopt, as well.

“No matter the job they gave me, I was going to try to do it well,” Wilson said. “People observe what you do and they will give you opportunities based on whether you do something small well.”

In future years, Sparks said she hopes the firm will have more space to allow an even larger number of girls to hear from speakers like Wilson and Brown and learn about careers in the law.

“We certainly are committed to public service and improving the legal profession,” said Frederick L. Kobb, Wright, Constable & Skeen’s managing partner. “We support activities that encourage women to pursue legal careers, and in our philanthropy, we are committed to Baltimore City agencies and institutions. It’s part of who we are.”

This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Path To Excellence: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Path to Excellence magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Path to Excellence.

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