Pace University Law School’s Summer Justice Academy opens up the world of law for area female high school students.

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A group of 35 young women sat with rapt attention and listened as Elena Goldberg, Esq. offered first hand knowledge of her days as a law student, as part of a lecture entitled “The Law School Experience.”

“What area of the law are you interested in?” she asked those gathered at Pace University’s White Plains campus.

Hands went up, and an array of answers followed.

“I like to speak and advocate for people, so working with juvenile defendants interests me,” said one.

Another cited a career in entertainment law as a goal. A student then asked if the bar exam is hard. Goldberg, 29, who works in the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate division, should know.

She gave an honest answer with a smile. “Yes, it is,” she said.

This seminar was a part of the third annual Summer Justice Academy for Young Women, held at . The program is a collaborative effort by the school and the New York Chapter of the National Association of Women Judges.

Students will go on visits to the Westchester County Courthouse and Washington, D.C., for guided tours of the Capitol Building, the United States Supreme Court, and possibly the White House.

It offers an opportunity for female high school students, some who are minorities and come from disadvantaged backgrounds, to attend a weeklong series of seminars that give background on the legal profession. The girls are primarily from Westchester, with some from the Bronx and other boroughs.

Some of the topics include criminal, matrimonial and health —along with laws geared to addressing domestic violence and cyber bullying. The week will be capped off Monday with a special trip to Washington, D.C. that includes visits to the Capitol, Supreme Court and, if possible, the White House.

Those who serve the legal profession—ranging from women judges, lawyers and Pace Law School professors—all have donated their time to the program.

The Honorable La Tia W. Martin, Supervising Judge, Matters for New York State Supreme Court—and a Westchester County resident—created the Summer Justice Academy for Young Women.

“My objective was, and still is, to give exposure early on to underserved high school girls to help prepare them for their future education, plus a law school education if they so choose,” she said.

Many who are past participants in the program have decided to pursue legal careers. Martin’s association with Pace stems from her time as a sitting  judge in White Plains. She explained how she went about approaching schools to initially select students for the program.

“I had taken the major cities in Westchester—White Plains, Yonkers, Mt. Vernon—and sent letters to guidance counselors and principals to help me identify good candidates for it,” she said.

There are three criteria for students to qualify: they must have at least average grades; be recommended by their principal, guidance counselor or teacher; and write an essay as to why they would like to attend.

The academy’s curriculum involves a program evaluation and legal research projects done by the students. Upon finishing, the students receive a certificate of completion.

“We want to see the program blossom, and hope to eventually have it expand to 50 students,” said Martin.

Martin’s law clerk, Dafina Cobbinah of Riverdale, was equally enthusiastic about what the academy offers.

“It’s just great for us to introduce students to different types of law that they may not necessarily have been aware of,” said Cobbinah. “Also, it’s not necessary to study pre-law in preparation for law school. Good grades and a clean record, though, are very important to pursue legal studies.”

One student, 17-year-old Briana Chambliss, relished the opportunity to attend the program.

“My guidance counselor told me about this,” she said after the lecture. “I’m interested in corporate law so I have enjoyed learning more about it here. Also, it’s great meeting new people who are part of the program.”

Another White Plains High School student, Kim Guevara, 17, took a course in criminal law last year which spurred her on to attend the academy.

“I am interested in becoming a public defender, so learning more at these lectures really helps,” she said.

Clarissa Blanco, 17 and a student at Yonkers High School, echoed Guevara’s career ambitions.

“I’d be interested in working with defending juveniles.” Blanco said that she has been gearing to study law since ninth grade, and her extracurricular activities have played a part.

“I’ve always been involved in arts and dance, and I love helping people,” she said.

Goldberg, after detailing the many various facets of the law school experience, left the students with wise advice.

“Law school teaches you, among other things, how to become an advocate, as well as organized and diligent,” she said. “Also, it’s really important when you become a lawyer to remember where you came from and to give back to the community. It’s a lifetime commitment because it involves so much to learn, and you are entrusted with people’s well being.”

Those interested in finding out more about the Summer Justice Academy for Young Women can contact Shari Gordon, Esq., co-chair of the academy, at .