A Judge’s Words of Wisdom – What Legal Science Students Need to Know

Those in the legal field have likely heard of Law Day, which is a national celebration that takes place yearly on May 1. What is it though, and why do legal sciences students celebrate it?

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), “Law day is a national day set aside to celebrate the rule of law. Law Day underscores how law and the legal process contribute to the freedoms that all Americans share. Law Day also provides an opportunity to recognize the role of courts in this democracy and the importance of jury service to maintaining the integrity of the courts.”

It is a day set aside for celebrating the nation’s legal system.  Across the country, individuals and groups conduct activities to show both children and adults how the law and our legal system attempts to work towards justice for all.

legal sciences

Judge Peterson speaks with legal students

Kofi Montzka, paralegal program chair at Minnesota School of Business-Brooklyn Center and Blaine campuses, plans activities each year throughout the month of May for students to help achieve ABA’s goals. While the paralegal degree and criminal justice students are the main audience, all students are invited to participate. One activity this year gave students the opportunity to hear Hennepin County District Court Judge Bruce A. Peterson speak.

On Tuesday, May 14, Adam Ellingson, president of the legal student club, introduced Judge Peterson, who went on to hold an interactive program for about 25 legal studies students. He began by asking the students their names and one word that describes their hopes for their legal career.  The theme for the evening was “Creating a Successful and Rewarding Career.”

Judge Peterson shared with the students that he was a good student and a hard worker during his undergraduate work at Cornell University as well as during law school at Yale Law School.  Through the years, he worked in various capacities in the legal field and was appointed to the bench by Governor Jesse Ventura in 1999.  Since then, he has worked in criminal, civil and family court, and he recently started Co-Parent Court.

Co-Parent Court is just one of several problem-solving courts in Hennepin County; others include Drug Court, Mental Health Court, Truancy Court, Community Courts, and Domestic Violence Court.  Judge Peterson explained that the purpose of the problem-solving courts is to work with the parties involved in addition to other community partners, such as social workers and probation officers, to develop a plan for the offender to complete programs which will help them to turn their lives around.  He told the students a court system based on treatment, consequences and rewards is better than an adversarial court system.

Judge Peterson and a team of his partners created the Co-Parent Court in 2010, and many of the clients are pulled specifically from high poverty areas of Minneapolis.  He explained that approximately 90 percent of parents in North Minneapolis are unmarried, and the risks for the kids of these parents are greater.  A disproportionate number of the children get into trouble as they get older, and he thought it was important to do what he could to turn that around.

legal sciencesCo-Parent Court allows the unmarried parents to work together to parent their children and helps the fathers to be more involved in their children’s lives.  The system still helps to collect child support payments, but those payments do not necessarily help with relationship building.  The whole point is to have parents collaborate for the good of the children. Judge Peterson does not always make the decisions for the parents, but he instead helps to empower them to make decisions together, which in turn will help with resolving future problems.

As this was his idea, Judge Peterson encouraged the students that if they come up with a good idea on how to help others, they should fight for it.  He said that if it is a good idea, people will rally around it, and the money will come.

The words of wisdom that he left for the paralegal students were:

  • Be intelligent, hard working, and reliable
  • Be able to prepare documents that are clear, understandable, and accurate
  • Be a problem solver
  • Think ahead, see the big picture, and anticipate what must be accomplished

He had similar advice for the criminal justice students:

  • Understand addiction and chemical abuse
  • Understand poverty
  • Understand the attachment theory, which says that criminals with no attachment to parental authority will test others in authority to see if that figure really cares

Judge Peterson stressed the importance of volunteering and encouraged students to look into the FATHER Project and NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center for volunteer opportunities.

Lindsi Smithknecht, paralegal student, said, “Judge Peterson was an inspiring speaker. He not only spoke of the legal profession and his experience but also added some personal insight on how to become the best you can be in whatever you choose to do.  I found him to be genuine, caring, knowledgeable and intriguing.  He is truly a great person.”

Kristie Haider, paralegal student, commented, “Judge Peterson had a lot of helpful information.  I am interested in family law, so it was inspiring to listen to his success stories with clients.  He also gave us a lot of useful resources and tips to succeed as a paralegal.”

Thank you to Judge Bruce A. Peterson for speaking to our students!  For more information on the paralegal or criminal justice programs at Minnesota School of Business-Brooklyn Center campus, please call 763-566-7777.

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