The Foundation’s mission to increase knowledge of the law and legal system is accomplished by informing, educating, training, and supporting the citizens of New Jersey in various ways.
For more than 25 years, the Foundation has been making the law relevant and helping kids think critically by publishing free newspapers, newsletters, and blogs for classroom use. More than 1,600 New Jersey elementary, middle and high schools receive The Legal Eagle, a legal newspaper for kids first published in 1996. Respect, a newsletter about diversity and inclusion issues first published in 2001, examines social justice. Copies of Respect are sent to more than 1,200 middle and high schools. Over 3,500 teachers from all over the country subscribe to receive digital copies of both publications. In addition, the Foundation has more than 30 civics and law-related publications for students, educators and the public.
“The free publications are top notch and extremely well done. They really help students see law and government at work. My students actually learn about what their state is doing or has done. For example, my students can read about the Bill of Rights and learn about how it can and will affect them,” said Thomas Prendergast, a middle school social studies teacher at Our Lady of Sorrows School in Hamilton.
For more than 40 years, the Foundation has worked to educate and inspire students and lawyers through mock trial competitions. The Foundation’s mock trial competitions give students a hands-on, interactive way to learn about the justice system. Close to 5,000 students, from grades three through 12, participate in the competitions each year.
In the first year, 1982, 70 high school teams participated in the Foundation’s organized, state-wide competition. In 2023, more than 200 teams competed in the Vincent J. Apruzzese High School Mock Trial Competition. The winning team represents the state in the National High School Mock Trial Championship held in May each year. The mock trial program was expanded in 1991 to include a Law Fair for third- to sixth-grade students and expanded again in 1995 when Law Adventure was launched for students in grades seven and eight.
In 2015, the program expanded again to add a high school Courtroom Artist Contest where student artists sketch a mock trial team in action during county mock trial contests. In 2023, 38 students from 19 schools entered sketches. The winning student artist is invited to represent the state at the annual National High School Mock Trial Championship.
“When participating in mock trial competitions, my students have such fun, and grow by leaps and bounds in their critical thinking skills, public speaking, research, and ability to look at things from others’ points of view,” said Tracie Smith, senior naval science instructor and mock trial adviser from the Marine Academy of Science and Technology in Monmouth County.
Richard Morey, a retired U.S. history teacher and volunteer mock trial coach, added that: “The mock trial competition brings out the best in our high school participants, who learn the value of careful research and new ways of working together.”
In 1991, the Foundation held its first Law-Related Education Conference for educators. Three years later, it launched a conflict resolution and peer mediation program to teach children how to resolve disagreements without violence. The annual conference and the initial training program have evolved over the years. Today, the Foundation’s free Anti-Bias and Violence Prevention training is offered year-round for educators. More than 3,500 educators attend trainings each year.
“NJSBF trainings include hard-to-tackle, relevant discussions with applicable strategies. I appreciate insight from a diverse class and that it is also facilitated in a fair manner. As a teacher, it is very important to remain up to date, open minded and fair and these classes are vital to maintaining a healthy class during changing times,” said Jerome Bush, a teacher at DCF School in Cherry Hill.
Since 1975, the Foundation has supported growth in the legal profession by offering annual scholarships for second- and third-year law students attending a New Jersey law school.
“Becoming the first attorney in my family was a childhood dream. The New Jersey State Bar Foundation scholarship eased the financial obligations of law school for a transfer student and helped make that dream possible,” said Carmen Y. Day, a 2019 scholarship recipient, associate at Brown & Connery, and founding member of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
To broaden public education about the law and legal system, the Foundation began partnering with other New Jersey non-profits in 1990. The Cosponsorship Program is supported with funding from Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA). Last year, the Foundation awarded grant-based financial support to 26 nonprofit organizations to underwrite law-related programs, provide legal information and broaden public education.
“The support and funding NJSBF provides has helped create educational opportunities such as workshops, videos, and events to change mindsets, shift toxic cultures and position women as empowered instead of victims,” said Helen Archontou, CEO of YWCA Northern New Jersey.
Kathleen N. Fennelly, NJSBF Board President: “The Foundation’s Legal Eagle and Respect newsletters are not just for kids. I recommend that everyone read these high-quality publications. The legal topics addressed are current, timely and thought-provoking. I learn something new from every issue.”
Charles J. Stoia, Incoming NJSBF Board President: “The belief that ‘informed citizens are better citizens’ is reflected in everything the Foundation offers. Our school and public programs, from mock trial competitions and publications to law-related conferences and scholarships, fosters increased awareness, appreciation, and knowledge of the law for people of all ages.”
Jeralyn L. Lawrence, NJSBA President: “As the charitable arm of the NJSBA, the Foundation has honorably served New Jersey residents through its publications, scholarships, speaking events and many other functions focused on serving the community. Its mission, now more than ever, is vital to expand the public’s knowledge of the legal system and foster pride in the practice of law.”
Timothy F. McGoughran, NJSBA President-Elect: “Serving as a mock trial judge for the past 20 years has been one of my most rewarding experiences as an attorney. Year after year, the quality of work and dedication these high school students exhibit never ceases to amaze me. Through the tremendous efforts of the Foundation, we can reach students at a young age and teach them the letter of the law.”
Ways to Make a Difference
Celebrate the Foundation’s 65th anniversary of making a difference by joining Speakers Bureau, attending the Medal of Honor event on Sept. 26, making a tax-deductible donation or purchasing a commemorative brick at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick.
For more about the Foundation’s history and information about volunteering, visit njsbf.org.
Originally published April 24, 2023
Bar Report of the New Jersey State Bar Association