Catching the excitement of the Lawyer-Teacher Partnership Program

Issue February 2008 By Dennis Garrigan

Growing up, Scott Heidorn always knew he wanted to be a lawyer. However, as a high school student, he felt there was a huge void in gaining an understanding of the legal system. Although he wouldn’t reach that understanding until he began law school, he had an opportunity to bridge that gap through the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Lawyer-Teacher Partnership Program.

“Our students were amazed that a successful, young lawyer would come from Boston to share his experiences with them and convey his excitement about the law,” said Tess Hopper, social studies teacher at Georgetown Middle/High School, which used the StreetLaw textbook for the past two years, but without the benefit of having a lawyer in the classroom. “Scott really made the law come alive for our kids. It was a really big deal to them, and his presence in the classroom continues to have a lasting impression.”

Heidorn is an associate at Campbell, Campbell, Edwards & Conroy in Boston, specializing in civil liti-
gation. He is a member of the MBA and the Boston Bar Association. Hopper says Heidorn was always prepared, knew the textbook and handled every question the Georgetown students could muster.

“At first, our students asked Scott anything and everything that came to mind,” said Hopper. “He answered every question thoughtfully. But what really impressed our students was that Scott made himself available, even outside the confines of the classroom, by providing his e-mail for any follow-up questions.”

“I was surprised at how much the students knew about the law,” said Heidorn. “They were especially well- versed in elements of criminal procedure and constitu-
tional law. However, as a civil litigator, it came as somewhat of a surprise to me that their knowledge of civil law was not as extensive as criminal law.”

After improving the students’ understanding of the legal system, Hopper says Heidorn worked out a lesson plan to show the relationship between criminal and civil law and how each of them features complementary components.

“In class, Scott had our students take a position on issues such as gun control and malpractice, sometimes outside their own comfort zone,” said Hopper. “Having done that, the students worked on a full range of legal scenarios that included both the criminal and civil ramifications.”
With the cooperation of Essex County Superior Court, the highlight of the fall semester’s Lawyer-Teacher Partnership was a daylong trip to the courthouse in Salem.
Heidorn had arranged for three classes from Georgetown Middle/High School to be in the court when Judge Howard Whitehead held a sentencing hearing for a man—not much older than the students—accused of aggravated assault and battery.

“To see the students absorbing the reality of what was taking place at the hearing was enormous,” said Hopper. “The visit to the courthouse and the sentencing crystal-lized all of the issues that were raised in the classroom. However, this time, the students weren’t dealing with hypotheticals; they witnessed how the law affects real people.”

 Following the hearing, Heidorn arranged for the judge to speak to the students about the hearing that had taken place. The judge provided background about the case, explained the impact it had on the defendant’s family, and gave the rationale behind the final sentencing.

“Judge Whitehead spent a lot of quality time with the students, and he encouraged them to ask questions,” said Heidorn. “This was a unique educational and instructive opportunity for learning about the courts. He did a great job with the students, and he appeared to really enjoy the experience.”

“Scott’s excitement about the law is infectious,” said Hopper. “He definitely made the legal system more relevant for our students. His humility, combined with the obvious satisfaction for the work he does, is definitely changing negative stereotypes about the profession.”

Heidorn credits the MBA’s Community and Public Services Department for motivating him to get involved in the Lawyer-Teacher Partnership Program.

While attending a meeting of the Young Lawyers Section Council of the MBA, he said he was intrigued with the message that Community and Public Services Director Elizabeth A. O’Neil delivered to the membership about the work MBA members were doing in the classroom.

“When Beth explained the opportunity, that was enough for me,” said Heidorn. “I knew that the Lawyer-Teacher Partnership was what I wanted to get involved with.”

Although Heidorn has high praise for the StreetLaw textbook, he believes the textbook alone is not enough.

“To truly bolster the program and vitalize it for students, we need more lawyers to get involved,” he said. “When we get involved, the law comes alive for the students, and attorneys derive a deeper sense of personal satisfaction from the work they’re doing.”