Supreme Court Learning Center gives students glimpse of careers

By Cynthia Price

Legal News

Middle school students who are visiting the Michigan Courts' Learning Center this summer are discovering a lot about careers in the law while gaining information that will help them be better citizens.

The "Exploring Careers" program, in its fifth year, was originally aimed solely at high school students and recently expanded to the middle school. Approximately 20 middle-schoolers gathered on a Monday in Lansing recently for the start of their week at the court. The sessions are held from 9 a.m. to noon each day.

Rachel Drenovsky, the Learning Center Coordinator, in planning the program stressed that first, students meet professionals who are doing the kind of jobs they might aspire to; and, second, the young participants have specific assignments to focus their attention.

After a couple of getting-to-know-each-other activities, the students toured the Learning Center. Drenovsky explained the "pyramid" of trial court to court of appeals to Supreme Court, and talked about some of the requirements for pursuing a career in the judiciary.

In the next room, students assumed roles of court personnel, from judge to clerk to bailiff to "the public," and read to each other from laminated sheets about what their function is in a smoothly running system. Later in the week they will have a chance to do a mock small claims trial, after learning in more detail how that court works.

A highlight of the students' day was a visit to the Michigan Supreme Court to hear Justice Michael Cavanagh speak about his career and his view of justice. Justice Cavanagh told the students he grew up in Detroit and had always intended to stay there, but was offered a job as assistant attorney for the City of Lansing, and promoted shortly thereafter to City Attorney. Later, he ran for a newly-created District Court judge position and won; he served on the Court of Appeals, and in 1982 won his first term on the Supreme Court.

He used this to illustrate his message to the students: so many career decisions are changed "by circumstances, by being exposed to different things," and the students should remain open to change throughout their lives. "Don't feel compelled to get knocked off your horse by a blinding light," he advised, referring to the Biblical story of St. Paul's conversion. "Explore a lot of things."

One student boldly asked Justice Cavanagh whether he would have run again had he not been limited because he will be over 70 when his current term expires. "Probably," he answered, evincing enthusiasm for the job.

The students met his enthusiasm, asking question after question until after their noon departure time.

The Learning Center is a hands-on museum devoted to the history and functions of the law in Michigan. It gives visitors an overview of both the way the overall court system works as well as offering exhibits on some specific topic areas such as Native American courts and personal protection orders. The Center also has displays on specific events in Michigan legal history, and biographies of influential participants in Michigan legal history. For more information, please contact Rachel Drenovsky at 517-373-7171 or by E-mail: DrenovskyR@ courts.

Published: Thu, Aug 5, 2010