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Child & Family Justice Initiative

“I made it here, and I need to extend a hand backward.”
– Meagan Muñoz, Class of 2020 Child & Family Justice Advocate

Pipeline to Law School

Recruiting students from diverse communities as early as 4th grade

Preparation in Law School

Training law students to effectively advocate for vulnerable populations

Practice beyond Law School

Supporting recent alumni in their careers as they serve NM children & families

Overview

The Child & Family Justice Initiative aims to create a pipeline to the UNM School of Law for students who reflect New Mexico’s diversity and are committed to careers serving New Mexico’s most vulnerable children and families.


Wild Friends

The Wild Friends Program is a unique, award-winning civics education program at the UNM School of Law that provides hands-on learning to students in grades 4-12 across New Mexico.

Students help draft legislation on a wildlife conservation issue and work to pass it in the New Mexico State Legislature. Throughout this process, students learn how our government works, develop good citizenship skills, participate in public policy projects of their choosing, meet attorneys and legislators working on behalf of their communities, and are introduced to the Law School. Since most of the schools that participate in the Wild Friends Program are Title I schools, many of the students in those schools come from the vulnerable communities that UNM Law seeks to serve. Therefore, the students who are active in Wild Friends are precisely the students whom UNM Law desires to see active in its classrooms and, later, in the legal field.

Learn more about the Wild Friends Program at wildfriends.unm.edu or by contacting Wild Friends Program Director Sue George.

Constitution Day

Inaugurated by Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project Faculty Advisor Maryam Ahranjani in 2014, the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project sponsors an annual Constitution Day celebration at UNM School of Law. The two goals for the event are to facilitate learning about civic engagement and constitutional literacy and to encourage our high school students to consider becoming lawyers themselves.

Each year, up to 100 students from Albuquerque Public High Schools attend. Current Marshall-Brennan Fellows and a number of law students volunteer their time to ensure that high school students get a true taste of UNM School of Law while learning the history of the U.S. Constitution. The day’s activities include an icebreaker, tours of the Law School and the New Mexico Court of Appeals, lunch, guest speakers from the New Mexico legal community, and a “Know Your Rights” training about police encounters.

Marshall-Brennan

The Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project, named in honor of the late Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and William J. Brennan, Jr., is a law-related education program that:

  1. trains and supervises current law students (“Marshall-Brennan Fellows”) to teach Constitutional Law in local public high schools and
  2. sponsors a regional moot court competition for the participating high school students—the winners of which will compete in a national completion in Washington, D.C.

In general, the Marshall-Brennan Project reaches out to public and public charter high schools predominantly serving students who come from low-income households. Similar to the Wild Friends Program, the high school students that participate in the Marshall-Brennan Project are the students that UNM Law seeks to recruit for law school and law practice in New Mexico.
Learn more about the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project at lawschool.unm.edu/marshall-brennan.html.

Undergraduate Coursework

Through the CFJI, the UNM School of Law seeks to increase knowledge of social/racial justice issues and careers among undergraduate students through various course options.

Each fall, UNM offers incoming freshmen an array of topics to explore within the First-Year Learning Communities. A First-Year Learning Community (FLC) consists of two classes taught together around a theme.  One class is a seminar, while the other class is part of the UNM Core Curriculum. For the fall of 2018, UNM featured a new FLC for students interested in law and social justice. UNM Law alumni Leon Howard and Quiana Salazar-King taught the seminar titled “Social Justice Lawyering.” Peter Kierst, a UNM Law alumnus and Senior Lecturer with the Political Science Faculty, taught the UNM Core Curriculum course, “The Political World.”

This FLC provided students with the necessary tools to pursue social justice legal advocacy work as they are beginning their college and professional careers. Students developed an understanding of how to leverage their education and passions to affect change in the larger community. The FLC discussed the scope and definition of social justice advocacy. Students examined the various settings in which social justice advocacy occurs, particularly through exposure to professionals in the field. Students were given exceptional access to UNM School of Law and New Mexico's leading social justice advocates. Throughout the FLC, students studied the advantages, limitations, and skills required for different legal strategies including litigation, lobbying, public education, public relations, community organizing, and community economic development.  Most of the students expressed interest in attending law school in the future and serving the people of New Mexico.

For the spring of 2020, UNM Law alumnus Leon Howard is teaching “Race and the Law,” an upper-division course listed in the Africana Studies Program, which celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year.  The course explores the historical and contemporary treatment of race in the United States by the courts and the legislature, and it delves into the construction of race as a concept and position of identity through the law.

Outreach

To promote a pipeline to the UNM School of Law for students who reflect New Mexico’s diversity, it is essential to extend our reach to the various parts of the state of New Mexico.

School Travel Ambassadors program, which focuses on engaging high school and college students in underrepresented communities in conversations about social justice for children and families, as well as pathways to law school.  As the Ambassadors share their personal stories of their path to (and through) law school, our hope is to encourage a more diverse group of students to apply to the UNM School of Law to pursue social justice careers focused on vulnerable children and their families. 

Ambassadors travel to schools and community organizations in rural, tribal, and low-income communities. From hosting sessions in which they review college application materials to presenting at statewide events, the Ambassadors are increasing familiarity between the UNM School of Law and potential students.  Among the events the Ambassadors have attended are the following:

  • Albuquerque Public Schools Native American High School College Fair;
  • Diversity Open Houses for High School Students;
  • Crownpoint High School Junior Law Camp visit and tour;
  • Moriarity High School Career Fair;
  • Pueblo of Isleta’s Kickstart to College;
  • Science Summer Camp hosted by African American Student Services;
  • Native American Summer Policy Academy; and
  • UNM’s American Indian Student Services High School Junior and Senior days.

In addition to the Travel Ambassadors program, the Law School has engaged in a number of other outreach and recruitment activities designed to attract diverse students interested in social justice work on behalf of the vulnerable children, families, and communities. For example, UNM Law staff and students participated in:

  • UNM School of Law/UNM Children’s Campus Kickball Tournament;
  • Pre-Law Summer Institute’s 50th Anniversary Celebration;
  • National Juvenile Defender Annual Symposium;
  • Southwest Zealous Advocacy for Juveniles Conference;
  • Indian Civil Rights Act Symposium;
  • LGBT Bar Association;
  • Law School Admission Counsel Forums in San Francisco and Atlanta;
  • Career Fairs at Morehouse and Spelman Colleges; and
  • UNM Career and Alumni Fairs.

Finally, the UNM School of Law Admissions Office collaborated with UNM Law student groups to offer practice LSATs in different communities throughout the region as a means to help prospective students earn higher LSAT scores and expand their chances of admission. These practice LSAT sessions were coupled with one-on-one meetings with related legal professionals, group activities, presentations by community leaders, and community events to help build trust and strengthen relationships. These partnerships will not only help applicants improve their LSAT scores but will lead to long-term relationships in communities across the state and region.  Admissions Officers from the UNM School of Law have met with:

  • the NM State Bar Committee on Diversity;
  • all diversity/affinity sections and independent state bar associations (e.g., Indian Law Section, NM Hispanic Bar Association, and NM Black Lawyers Association);
  • all social justice, child, and family law bars and sections;
  • youth career events; and

undergraduate organizations and programs (e.g., El Centro de la Raza, American Indian Student Services, Native American Studies, UNM Indigenous Collaborative, LGBT Resource Center, and Fort Lewis Native American Program).