Legal Outreach History
Legal Outreach is a non-profit organization that uses the law to inspire vision and foster skills in high school students from New York City’s most under-served areas.
In 1982, Legal Outreach Co-Founder and Executive Director, James O’Neal, graduated from Harvard Law School and came to New York as the recipient of Harvard’s first Public Interest Law Fellowship. Determined to serve at-risk teens, he taught the law to students in Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the South Bronx. In the classroom, O’Neal discovered that he could sustain interest and develop skills by discussing legal issues relevant to their communities–child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and the right against unreasonable searches by police. O’Neal designed and wrote four innovative law-related curricula which continue to serve as the foundation of the organization’s work in middle schools across New York City. For 27 years, Legal Outreach has used the law as a vehicle to motivate urban teens to strive for academic success.
Legal Outreach has relied heavily on the commitments from several New York institutions to bring the law to life for young people. The organization partners with law schools, law firms, government agencies, as well as public interest organizations, and currently has 16 judges and 182 attorney volunteers. Law students from NYU, Columbia, Brooklyn, and St. John’s have provided instruction in trial practice to Harlem middle school students participating in Mock Trial Competition, and partnerships with Columbia, NYU, Brooklyn, St. John’s and Fordham Law Schools have led to the establishment of the Summer Law Institute, a rigorous law program for eighth graders. In 2009 New York Law School began its partnership with Legal Outreach.
In an effort to provide students with a continuous support system beyond middle school, Legal Outreach established College Bound, a comprehensive, four-year program designed to equip high school students from underserved communities with the tools they need to succeed. Since the graduation of the first College Bound class in 1993, 336 students have completed the program, and 99.4% have attended college.
Membership Eligibility: All law students currently matriculated at New York Law School are eligible to serve as debate coaches.
Debate Program: In order to improve public speaking skills as well as analytic and reasoning abilities, students in the College Bound program are required to participate in three Constitutional Law debates per year. Each debate focuses on a major area of constitutional law, such as freedom of speech, procedural due process, equal protection, and search and seizure.
Role of Debate Coach: A the start of the fall semester, law students are assigned to one or two students for the year. Debate preparation includes reviewing and explaining the debate fact pattern, helping students brief the relevant cases, and outlining and preparing for the oral argument. Debate coaches will also serve as judges on the night of the actual debate.
Time Commitment: In addition to attending a training session provided by Legal Outreach, a debate coach must commit to approximately 24 hours per academic year, or 8 hours per debate. Currently, the program includes one fall debate and two spring debates. If your student qualifies for a final exhibition competition, there may be an additional debate in the spring. Debate coaches are expected to meet with their student a minimum of three times before the debate as well as serve as a debate judge.
Attorney Contact: Each Legal Outreach student has an attorney mentor. Debate coaches are encouraged to schedule at least one joint debate prep meeting with their student and mentor.
Benefits of Coaching: