Eli Lilly's law department goes into the classroom

The company's Street Law program makes a difference at an Indianapolis high school.

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Most former high-schoolers can recall how impressionable one’s teenage years can be. The legal department at Indianapolis-based global pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Co. has taken full advantage of teens’ openness to new experiences by developing a legal education program for a nearby high school.

In 2008, the legal department sought to create a formal pro bono program that would allow the department’s non-lawyers to participate. The company turned its attention to Street Law, a national non-profit organization that incorporates law programs into the classroom with a goal to increase diversity in the legal profession.

Street Law worked with Lilly and Baker & Daniels, a local law firm that collaborated on the pro bono initiative, to identify a partner school that would most benefit from a Street Law program. The chosen candidate was Shortridge Magnet High School for Law and Public Policy, which has a curriculum focused on democracy and justice.

Shortridge is the oldest public high school in Indiana. It was founded as Shortridge High School in 1864 and later transitioned to a middle school for about 25 years. It then reopened as Shortridge Magnet High School for Law and Public Policy in 2009.

The project had some challenges. At the time, Indiana Public Schools was taking a phased approach to Shortridge’s reopening, so the only high-school students in the school in 2009 were freshman; and the Street Law curriculum is designed for juniors, which meant that Lilly would have to wait a few years before it could implement the program.

Additionally, Shortridge collaborates with Butler University when students reach their junior year, so Lilly decided it would be most effective to launch its Street Law program in sophomore classrooms in August 2010. “What we ended up doing was modifying the curriculum to work with 10th-graders,” says Ponce Tidwell, assistant general counsel at Lilly.

Lilly legal department employees joined Baker & Daniels lawyers in groups of six to eight volunteers to visit Shortridge on designated days and discuss careers and teach subject matter.

“We give them a core understanding [of civil law] and walk them through real-life experiences so that they understand how these principles apply to their everyday lives,” Tidwell says.

At the end of the semester, Lilly hosted a one-day conference and workshop for Shortridge Street Law students at its corporate headquarters. “We got great positive feedback from the students,” Tidwell says. “They appreciated people outside of school taking time and interest in them. They loved the experience of being at the corporate center. A lot of them had never been in an office building.”

Tidwell says Lilly plans to continue the Street Law program at Shortridge.

“One of our main goals [through Street Law] was to increase interest in law school, but we decided that even if we could just spark increased interest in pursuing education, it’s still a win-win,” Tidwell says.

Ashley Post

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