Carrie LeRoy, Skadden Arps, counsel. .Photographed at Gunn High School in Palo Alto…Photo: S. Todd Rogers ()
If a person gets really drunk and something really bad happens at a party, is she going to be charged with underage drinking?
That’s one of the questions posed by a teenager to attorneys from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Legal Advocates for Children & Youth at a recent “Know Your Rights and Know the Law: Sexual and Social Media Misconduct” course.
Launched this fall, the class is being held at high schools in the Palo Alto Unified School District. The initiative, a collaboration between Skadden and LACY, has the blessing of district superintendent Dr. Kevin Skelly and buy-in from the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office. To date, more than 700 students have heard the presentation, and organizers hope to expand it to other school districts.
The program is the brainchild of Carrie LeRoy, an intellectual property and technology counsel at Skadden. A mother of three, she hopes a little legal awareness might prevent more cases like the one involving Audrie Pott, a 15-year-old Saratoga High School student who committed suicide after photos of her sexual assault by classmates were allegedly circulated among her peers.
Teenagers “don’t really understand the power they have when using social media,” LeRoy said. “We start with educating youth about what they can and cannot do.”
Earlier this year, Skadden’s Silicon Valley office was looking for a way to make an impact on the community. Stacy Kray, counsel and pro bono coordinator for Skadden’s Silicon Valley office, surveyed lawyers in the office on possible topics. They chose LeRoy’s idea.
So far, 20 Skadden attorneys have been trained to present the class and dozens more are interested in participating. Some Skadden clients, including attorneys from Hewlett-Packard, are in the process of observing the classes so they can also pitch in. In the Palo Alto school district, the sessions are taught in either a 60- or 90-minute format to students in Living Skills classes.
LACY, which advocates for children and teenagers in Santa Clara County, including representing kids in foster care, helped design the curriculum and the materials to be appealing and understandable for teens. LACY is jointly training Skadden lawyers, its own staff and corporate partners to be presenters, and is helping introduce the program to the schools. Organizers also got input from Deputy District Attorney Ray Mendoza, who specializes in cyberbullying, about the potential criminal repercussions of sexting.
“Silicon Valley is the perfect place for this to be launched,” said Jennifer Kelleher, directing attorney for Legal Advocates for Children & Youth. She noted that tech companies in particular are investing in the effort. “Nobody wants their technology to be used in a way that harms kids.”
During the class, the lawyers hand out resources, including referrals for who to call should a student or one of their friends be involved in a cybercrime, as well as FAQs, including the one on underage drinking. The answer, by the way, is no.
“Our culture blames victims,” LeRoy said. “Our legal system does not. That’s a powerful message.”
Lesley Guth is a freelance journalist in San Francisco.