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What lawyers are really like, and other life lessons

Shannah Bateman, a soon-to-be junior at Carver Vocational-Technical High School in Baltimore, wasn’t sure what to expect when she started a summer job at Goodell DeVries Leech & Dann LLP.“I thought it was going to be top-notch, no-kidding-around, get straight to the point,” she said, of working in a 50-lawyer Baltimore firm. And the reality was? “Basically the same,” she laughs, adding that it is, however, much friendlier — and that lawyers do crack an occasional joke now and then. “You still have to get your work done, but it’s more of an at-home family environment.”Candice Bellamy, a Forest Park High School student, has a similar impression from working at the Baltimore office of Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll.“Even though people may think lawyers are boring and all they do is work, it isn’t true,” she said in an e-mail. “Yes, they work long exhausting hours but they can also be a lot of fun and have great personalities.”Bateman and Bellamy are participating in Law Links, a project of the Citizenship Law Related Education Program that places high school students in law firms and law-related agencies for eight weeks of summer employment. Instead of babysitting, flipping burgers or lifeguarding by the pool, students make $6.50 an hour for a 40-hour work week doing everything from filing and copying to attending depositions.The highlight of Bateman’s summer, she says, was accompanying Goodell DeVries partners Linda S. Woolf and Thomas J.S. Waxter to a pretrial hearing involving water damage allegedly caused by a fire hydrant. When the trial starts in August, Bateman will have a ringside seat in the courtroom.“I wasn’t expecting to get into the trials until maybe the end, but my first week here, I actually got to go [to court],” she said, adding that Waxter “broke down the whole case so I could understand it, so I wouldn’t be sitting there in the dark.”And though Bellamy initially thought she’d be fetching coffee all day, it hasn’t been like that at all.“The knowledge I have gained over the past weeks I wouldn’t trade for the world,” she said.Bringing law to lifeThe project began in the summer of 1994, after then-Maryland State Bar Association President Denny Belman and then-Baltimore City Bar Association President Paul D. Bekman learned of a similar endeavor while attending an American Bar Association conference in St. Louis, according to Rick Miller, executive director of CLREP. CLREP decided to improve upon the St. Louis project by adding a 56-hour education and leadership component in addition to placing students with law-related organizations. This component, which students are paid to attend, involves activities as diverse as reviewing Stephen R. Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” or discussing issues like sexual harassment. Wednesday mornings, students meet with various professionals in the Baltimore community — lawyers, judges or law school representatives. Last week, students got to hear Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Court of Appeals speak about the judicial system and about his career.“When he came in, we thought he was going to be strict as well,” Bateman said. “But he was laid back, he had on … a bow tie and he told jokes. We weren’t going to let him leave without getting a picture with him.”This week, the students will be in Baltimore City Circuit Judge Wanda K. Heard’s courtroom watching motions by lawyers, and Patricia C. Jessamy will speak about her role as Baltimore City state’s attorney. There are two Law Links interns currently working in the Office of the State’s Attorney; there are also participants in the Baltimore City Circuit Court, Public Justice Center, Legal Aid Bureau, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers’ Service, Office of the Attorney General, and the Office of the Public Defender as well as in several private firms.“For kids who are interested in the law, it teaches them about the workplace, how to dress and interact in a professional environment,” Jessamy said, adding that students often want to jump right in to work in the homicide division (instead of the district court division where they’ll likely be working). “We have to be careful … we want them to have a good experience.”The goal isn’t necessarily to recruit future attorneys, but to encourage young people to think about gaining higher education and working in a professional setting. There are about 46 Law Links participants this year, most of whom — 27 — are working in Baltimore.“Our overall mission is to bring the law to life for young people,” Miller said, noting so much of teenagers’ beliefs about the professional world are formulated by what they see on TV. “They walk by and see these big buildings and don’t have a clue…we’re trying to give them that boost that will help them be successful.”