Dozens of West Michigan students recently got a chance to see how a courtroom works as part of a special event hosted by a local law firm.
The Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, a nonprofit that offers social and translation services for West Michigan’s Hispanic community, brought more than 60 students in grades 9-11 on a special field trip last month to the Grand Rapids office of Varnum.
The purpose of the visit was to help students get a closer look at the legal system, said Ricardo Martinez, program coordinator, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan.
“It was tremendous. We really enjoyed the challenge,” he said. “My team leaders are fantastic. They were students who themselves were in the program, and now they’re in college, and they’ve come back to help these students.”
The Latino Law Day event, which featured a legal presentation and a mock trial, was done through the center’s Supporting Our Leaders summer program. The program keeps students engaged academically throughout the summer, providing leadership development and workplace-readiness opportunities.
The eight-week program runs Mondays through Thursdays at the center, with Fridays reserved for off-site visits, including college campuses and businesses.
The field trip to Varnum began with a special legal presentation to students by Varnum attorneys, followed by a mock trial where the students participated. Varnum attorneys Luis Avila and Melissa Papke, along with summer associate Paul Albarran, spoke with the students about their areas of legal expertise.
During the mock trial, the attorneys helped students perform roles such as prosecutor, attorney and jury in the case of “a stolen candy bar.” Participants were given written scripts as part of an effort to better understand the legal field, Martinez said.
“The mock trial was great. It was tremendous, seriously. I really loved this one,” he said.
Martinez added that the event will help students later in life, beyond the exposure to the profession.
“(When) they see something out there — the violence and everything going on — please get involved, because you might save a life," he said. "A criminal record is not the best for you. It’s always good to be honest.”