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March 1, 2014
Sarasota YLD takes top honors for civics education project

By Megan E. Davis
Associate Editor

The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division presented awards at its Affiliate Outreach Conference in Tampa to three local young lawyer sections and divisions for the service they provided to their members and the public over the past year.

The Sarasota County Bar Young Lawyers Division took home the event’s top honor, Affiliate of the Year.

YLD President Melanie Griffin “What really impressed us about Sarasota was not only the quality of the work they completed all year long, but the fact that they did it with 150 people,” said YLD President Melanie Griffin. “The tremendous amount of work they were able to do for their constituents with limited numbers and resources is incredible.”

After making a grant proposal at last year’s AOC, the YLD awarded the division funding to create a multimedia website to provide educational materials to seventh-grade students preparing for a newly mandated statewide civics exam.

In 2010, Florida passed the Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act, requiring all seventh-graders in the state pass a one-semester civics course to advance to the eighth grade. Beginning with the current 2013-14 school year, an end-of-course exam accounts for 30 percent of students’ grades. Next year, students will be required to pass the exam to advance to the eighth grade.

The website is the first online resource for students and directly illustrates and addresses all of the mandatory benchmark criteria set by the state.

At press time, the division expected the website,, to go live soon.

Additionally, division members ran mock trial programs in local schools as part of Law Week in May and, partnering with Volunteer Community Connections, painted a house for a resident in need on Make a Difference Day in October.

Several division members also served on the Sarasota County Bar Association’s diversity committee, which created the Booker High School Law Academy.

The academy aims to provide students of Booker High School, which is comprised of a primarily minority student population, with a rigorous academic program focusing on criminal justice and legal studies.

The division also held several mentoring and education events for members, including a judicial luncheon and “quick chat” event modeled after speed dating in which participants rotated around to meet each other and briefly discuss topics like firms, practice areas, and referrals.

The YLD’s Most Outstanding Member Project award went to the Palm Beach County Bar Association Young Lawyers Section for its Real Life Series project.

The project’s aim is to help young lawyers navigate common issues and questions that come up during the first years of practice but are not touched on in law school.

The series’ first event, held in October, included a presentation on thinking styles and a panel discussion by seasoned attorneys and judges, who addressed such topics as building a good reputation and dealing with difficult opposing counsel.

“As a member of the YLS board and a young lawyer early into my career, the first Real Life Series provided many answers to questions I had and some I did not even know I had,” said Scott P. Berry.

A second event, planned for February 19, will address technological issues lawyers are facing. A third event will deal with finance and insurance.

The YLD honored the Dade County Bar Association Young Lawyers Section with the Most Outstanding Public Service Project award for its Middle School Mock Trial and “We Have a Dream Too” program.

The section’s schools committee partnered with a local middle-school teacher and used “graphic novels” created by the ABA to teach students about a variety of topics, including jury trials, Internet piracy, and identity theft.

The graphic novels walked students through a jury trial on each issue and encouraged them to think about the legal system and role of jury trials.

Committee members then walked the class through their own mock trial.

The “We Have a Dream Too” portion of the program educated students about the civil rights movement and allowed them to participate in mock trials highlighting various events in the movement, such as the story of Rosa Parks.

At the end of the school year, the committee plans to take students on a field trip to the Dade County Courthouse, where they will conduct a mock trial before a real judge.

“We are continually impressed by all of the member service projects and public services projects that affiliates put on, whether a small bar with 40 people or a large bar with a couple of thousand,” Griffin said.

[Revised: 11-10-2017]