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Supreme Court visit sparks students' interest in law

By Meredith Shamburger
Feb. 16, 2017 at 9:16 p.m.
Updated Feb. 16, 2017 at 9:17 p.m.

Pine Tree students Megan Oswald, left, and Dariann Muniguia talk with a law school representative at one of the information booths at LeTourneau University during Thursday's February 16, 2017, Texas Supreme Court visit.

As they lined up to take selfies with Twitter-favorite Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, the East Texas students who attended oral arguments and break-out sessions with the court Thursday said it was a special opportunity.

"I've wanted to be a lawyer, so I guess it's kind of my way of being able to try it out," said Pine Tree High School senior Destiny Hunt. "I'm eager to find out more things about it."

About 1,000 students from more than 30 area high school and colleges came to the Belcher Center on the LeTourneau University campus Thursday as Texas Supreme Court justices heard arguments in two cases.

Students also got the chance to take part in a Q&A session with justices, meet with law school representatives and learn about the legal profession.

For students such as Kilgore College sophomore Kenneth Rhodes, the day couldn't get any better. Rhodes and several of his fellow students had filed into the Belcher Center more than 30 minutes ahead of the starting time. They sat flipping through the day's program and read about the proceedings they were about to see.

"I'm very, very excited about this," Rhodes said. "This is very cool and very interesting to me. I've always been fascinated with law, and to be able to watch our justice system in action and actually see cases that come before the Supreme Court — they're actually making decisions that are going to affect me, my kids. To be able to see it firsthand is awesome."

Outside in the Belcher Center lobby, law student Jonathan Jeanlouis was watching the arguments on a television and waiting to talk about the Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Jeanlouis was one of a handful of representatives from law schools at the Belcher Center hoping to catch the eye of prospective students.

Jeanlouis got to see his own state's supreme court at his law school last year, and he was excited that Texas's court also took its proceedings on the road.

"This is actually really cool," he said. "I think it's really awesome anytime the Supreme Court comes out of its chambers and goes out to the community to different universities. It shows the students that they want them to be more interested in what the court's doing and see how the laws are going to affect them."

Justices Willett and John Devine led several break-out sessions with students Thursday afternoon, talking about the legal profession, law schools and the justice system — and answering questions peppered at them from eager students.

Willett kept attendees entertained with jokes while encouraging them to pursue their passions. The law, he told them, has the power to elevate or diminish the trajectory of people's lives — and he said he got into the legal profession to make a difference.

Willett told students he's never made much money doing pro bono or governmental law work, but it's a satisfying job. That makes all the difference, he said.

"Wherever you wind up, insist on a profession that just kind of enriches you," he said. "You don't want to be a cog, you don't want to be a factor of production, clocking in and clocking out. You want to do something that matters."

Ethan Hill, a dual-credit student at LeTourneau University, said he was inspired by Willett's session. He wants to use his experience coming from a family with three siblings adopted through Child Protective Services to help others.

"My experience with the CPS system has been interesting because there are a lot of pitfalls, there are a lot of complications and there are many places where improvements can be made," he said. "I have a passion for law and for communication, and I think that this is an excellent way to do something with this skill."

Zac Poorman, a fellow dual-credit student at LeTourneau, echoed Hill. He said he's not considering law school but is thinking about going into politics and working to make people's lives better. Willett's session re-sparked his interest in law, he said.

So, too, did the earlier oral arguments, Poorman said. Getting to see the court at work firsthand was exciting, he said.

"Those were things that really mattered, and they were changing the lives of those people for the better, and we got to see that live," he said.

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