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News | Sept. 18, 2012

NLSO Mid-Atlantic Wins Model Partnership Award

By Lt. Jean-Marc Chanoine, Naval Legal Service Office Mid-Atlantic

Partnership with Local High School Gets Students in the Courtroom and Lawyers in the Classroom

Naval Legal Service Office Mid-Atlantic was recognized as a 2012 Model Partnership by the Virginia Beach City Public School System for its volunteer work with high school students at Virginia Beach First Colonial High School. 

The Virginia Beach City Public School District recently recognized Naval Legal Service Office (NLSO) Mid-Atlantic as a “2012 Model Partnership” based on the legal studies collaboration between the employees of NLSO Mid-Atlantic and the students of First Colonial High School Legal Studies Academy. Every year, NLSO Mid-Atlantic provides internships for students from the First Colonial High School Legal Studies Academy.  

Expanding beyond the intern program this year, NLSO Mid-Atlantic judge advocates taught moot court skills, judged senior projects, and delivered legal studies presentations. The students also shadowed attorneys in the NLSO throughout the school year and took field trips to places where Navy lawyers practice. The partnership, initiated in 2004 when the Legal Studies Academy was established at First Colonial High School, affords students unique opportunities to explore potential legal careers within the military. It also provides students a better understanding of the military and civilian justice systems.

“It is vital that we, as a Navy and NLSO, not only do good for the Sailors and military families we support, but also do good for those in the community,” said Lt. Jon Taylor, the  NLSO liaison to the school.  “Shaping and guiding young people is one of the best ways to connect with the community and hopefully create a brighter future for all.”

The “Model Partnership” award, established more than a decade ago, annually recognizes best practices for meaningful community involvement in the school district.  A school district panel selects awardees through a nomination and review process.

“As officers and attorneys, we are expected to accomplish the Navy’s mission.” said Capt. Mike Palmer, Commanding Officer, NLSO Mid-Atlantic, as he left the Model Partnership Award ceremony.  “However, when we actually take the time out of our busy schedules to help kids, students, and the community, that goes beyond what is simply expected, it goes to a sense of pride, it goes to a sense of patriotism, and it goes to the simple goal of making others’ lives better.”

Team Effort

Debra Parker, NLSO Mid-Atlantic’s legal assistance office manager, has focused on expanding the students’ experience. Working closely with local commands, she coordinated a 2012 syllabus in which interns not only learned about the practice of law, but also toured a submarine and an aircraft carrier, visited the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and viewed an Article 32 investigative hearing.

“Our goal is to give the students the fullest exposure to both the NLSO and to the Navy. We provide them with training in ethics, family law, criminal law, as well as exposure to the Fleet,” said Parker.

This year, to accommodate increased demand for internships, Palmer expanded the NLSO partnership with the Legal Studies Academy to include two groups of students.

“The program at NLSO Mid-Atlantic is one of our most popular,” said Paige Scherr, assistant principal of First Colonial.

“There was no reason we couldn’t be involved year round,” Palmer explained. To ensure the expanded relationship would succeed, Palmer met with school leaders and appointed a command liaison.  Palmer also continued his personal involvement by delivering a presentation to the students on environmental law, judging student projects, and attending school events.

Course of Study

The students worked side-by-side with judge advocates, legalmen, and other court personnel. They received instruction in the areas of wills and estate planning, court reporting, case preparation and court-martial proceedings. NLSO Mid-Atlantic’s judge advocates molded the students’ moot court skills by helping them develop trial strategies, improve witness questioning, and strengthen personal advocacy skills.

“It was rewarding working with the students at First Colonial,” said Lt. Jacob Muesch, NLSO Mid-Atlantic. “It was great getting out of the office and being involved in the community.”

Starting at the beginning of their senior year, students in the Legal Studies Academy develop senior projects based on legal topics. Each project is judged by a teacher and an attorney. NLSO Mid-Atlantic provided several attorneys to judge the projects. The attorneys provided feedback to the students and graded each project.  After the first round of grading, the finalists gave a presentation to compete for the Best Project Award.

Students Assist Lawyers

The students also volunteered their time at NLSO Mid-Atlantic, assisting with voir dire training. Serving as members of a mock court-martial panel, the students filled out questionnaires and answered voir dire questions posed by counsel. At the conclusion of the exercise, the students provided the judge advocates effective feedback on their voir dire technique.

The Future

Looking ahead to the new school year, NLSO Mid-Atlantic will continue its relationship with First Colonial and plans to further expand mentorship opportunities and enhance this mutually beneficial and rewarding program.
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