This past Saturday, Ward Damon partner Dane Leitner and I spent the day sharing our love of law with 100 youths at Youth Law Day. This annual event invites kids and teens to learn more about civics and our legal system from real judges and attorneys at the Palm Beach South County Courthouse in a fun and interactive way with mock trials and more! The event had one of its biggest turnouts and it got me to reminisce about the humble beginnings of this now very popular and successful event.
Seven years ago, Ward Damon started a youth program for Boy Scouts to obtain their Law Merit Badge due to my participation with the local Boy Scout troop. Instead of having one person teach all of the content (which would be pretty dry and boring for kids), we recruited some superstar attorneys, judges, and other legal professionals to present a fun-filled day of learning civics and law.
The first Law Merit Badge Day for Boy Scouts was held in 2013. The second year we held the event we included the Girl Scouts so they could satisfy a Legacy badge. And the third year we hosted the program, we moved the event from the Ward Damon offices to the Ceremonial Courtroom at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in downtown West Palm Beach. .
We also added former Assistant State Attorney Sherri Collins (now Judge Collins) to the roster, who discussed the importance of two historic cases, one of the merit badge requirements. Judge Collins was a prosecutor on the John Goodman (Wellington Polo Club founder) case and I thought that would make a pretty cool addition to the program. Little did I know Judge Collins had much bigger plans for our modest event.
As soon as she put on her black robe she approached me with some suggestions, starting with, “Instead of doing it for a group of 30…. why not 100?”
“It would be impossible to do this for 100 participants, it’s not feasible,” I retorted.
“What if we use two courtrooms, and have each person present twice, once in each courtroom,” she replied without hesitation.
“What if,” I pondered?
Personally, I think Judge Collins took my statement as a challenge. Once you get to know her, you realize she is always trying to improve processes. Rumor has it she took her process improvement skills to the State Attorneys’ office, and if you have being paying attention to her first few years on the bench, it is noticeable.
If she wanted to make this program better, who was I to stand in her way? So in 2016 I handed over the reins and have helped her every year since with the new and improved YOUTH LAW DAY open to ALL Palm Beach County youths and now presented by the 15th Circuit Court Administration and the Palm Beach County Bar Association. The all-day leadership and development event for kids and teens stills focuses on teaching civics and our legal system, and it still satisfies Scout badge requirements…I even keep my Boy Scout credentials and training current, just so I can sign off on the merit badge every year. But now, it reaches even more youths in our community and features more legal professionals from all areas of the law including judges, lawyers, court reporters, investigators, and K-9 police officers. The kids and teens who attend are presented with a larger and more diverse spectrum of the legal profession that they can potentially see themselves in.
Judge Collins describes the formation of Youth Law Day (an excerpt from the Palm Beach County Bar Bulletin, February 2020):
A chance meeting on an airplane led Judge Collins to kickstart one of the Bar’s most successful annual education programs, Youth Law Day. Judge Collins, still an assistant state attorney at the time, was on a plane heading to present at a CLE program in Tampa when she met Eddie Stephens, a family law attorney with the law firm Ward Damon. Eddie told Judge Collins of an upcoming event for a few Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in his office to help teach them about the law. Judge Collins, who was involved with Scouts through her son, an Eagle Scout, and her daughter, a Silver and Bronze Award recipient, volunteered to help. And that was how it all started. Judge Collins believes exposing children to new possibilities or careers will inspire them to create attainable goals for their futures . With that in mind, Judge Collins sought to expand the program to more children in Palm Beach County.
Working with the Law Related Education Committee, including prior chair, Amy Terwilleger, and current chair, Andrew Kwan, and the attorneys from Ward Damon, Judge Collins initiated the program, now known as Youth Law Day. The expanded program has been a huge success selling out every year to over 100 children while presenting the legal professional and court system in a positive manner. Attendees of the all day event engage in interactive activities and satisfy the Boy Scout Law Merit Badge and Girl Scout Junior or Cadette Legacy Badge requirements,
I must say, it is truly inspiring to see someone take something you started and turn it into something even better. And the program gets better every year!
This was the fifth year of the upgraded Youth Law Day, and it was another sold-out success. Kudos to Judge Collins for taking this small event that was happening quietly at our firm and turning it into such an amazing opportunity for kids in our community. And cheers to Andrew Kwan who is currently doing a lot of the heavy lifting.
If you have or know a youth who would be interested or benefit from Youth Law Day, please be on the lookout for our 2021 event or call 561-687-2800 for more information.
Yours In Scouting,
P.S. The Florida Bar has the best social media team ever. If you have not had any interplay, I strongly recommend it. Danny does a good job! Except he sides with my Wife too often and is a little too slanted in favor of FSU Football, but we all have flaws! 😉
GREAT GOING EDDIE!! Thanks for your irrepressible enthusiasm and commitment. Always my hero. See you again soon I hope, John Phillips