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July/August 2005


Lawyers In Public Schools Still Going Strong

By Benjamin K. Sanchez

For the past 13 years, attorneys throughout Houston have volunteered to become substitute teachers for a day in local middle schools while teachers attend enrichment classes on and off campus. In 1993, the Houston Bar Association entered into a successful 12 year partnership with Houston I.S.D. implementing the Lawyers in Public Schools Program (LIPS). In 2004, HBA partnered with Spring Branch I.S.D. to initiate LIPS in Spring Branch. The first year in Spring Branch I.S.D. is considered to be a resounding success by everyone involved. There are currently 77 trained attorney volunteers in LIPS, with 43 of those volunteers substituting in classrooms last year in six middle schools throughout Spring Branch I.S.D.
A typical day for a LIPS volunteer starts early in the morning and ends in the mid-afternoon. The volunteer and the teacher for whom the volunteer is substituting have already talked by telephone about the classes, the lesson plans and whether or not a volunteer will teach the lesson plan or improvise with a discussion about the law, lawyers, and the legal system. They have also talked about any other administrative procedures necessary to ensure a quality day with the students. A typical class will last about an hour or more, and a volunteer may teach anywhere from two to five classes per day. Students in middle schools are still quite inquisitive, so volunteers can expect many questions from the students. Attorneys who have volunteered in the past frequently state that they learn as much or more from the students than the students learn from the attorneys.
LIPS, an award-winning program, is expanding to meet the needs of the HBA and State Bar of Texas. In conjunction with HBA President Randy Sorrels’ initiative of informing the public about the value of jury service, LIPS is partnering with the HBA Speakers Bureau to put many more attorneys into local classrooms to speak to students about jury service, the law, lawyers, and the legal process. The LIPS Committee and the HBA Board also look forward to reviewing the results of the newly unveiled SBOT Pipeline Project, a program which places attorneys willing to commit to a 2 year mentoring program with 4th and 5th grade students in Texas.
Supporting the various endeavors of LIPS means putting more and more attorneys in more classrooms, and to accomplish that, LIPS needs your help. LIPS volunteers make a difference that goes well beyond saving the school district money. Among other things, LIPS volunteers give students who are still at an impressionable age a positive image of lawyers and the law. Attorneys are constantly battling image problems, and one of the best ways to combat those image problems is by being positive role models for the future jurors and voting public. The LIPS program provides a perfect vehicle for attorneys to reach out into the community and do just that.
All first-time LIPS volunteers are required to go through an orientation and a background check. The LIPS Orientation for the upcoming fall semester will take place on Tuesday, September 20, 2005, at 5:30 p.m. at the Spring Branch I.S.D. Administration Building, 955 Campbell Rd, Houston, Texas 77024. The background check simply requires the volunteers to fill out an online form, which may be done after the orientation or another convenient time, and is usually returned within a couple of days. Once the volunteers attend the orientation and pass the background check, the volunteers are ready to move into the classrooms to help the students, the school district, and the profession! If you attended the orientation last year, you simply need to re-register as a volunteer this year.
The LIPS Committee hopes to make this year the best year yet and encourages anyone who has ever thought about teaching or mentoring, or simply wants to know how the younger generation thinks, to commit to making a difference within our schools and local legal community. Volunteering as a substitute teacher for a day through the LIPS program is a great way to begin to make that difference.
If you want to learn more or sign up, please contact Benjamin K. Sanchez, LIPS Committee Chairman, at 713-785-0881, or Angelica Coronado, of the HBA Community Education Department, at 713-759-1133.

Benjamin K. Sanchez practices with the firm of Leyh & Payne LLP. He is chair of the Lawyers in Public Schools Committee and a member of The Houston Lawyer editorial board.