UPLIFT is a pipeline program using mock trial and legal education to support underserved students in identifying and seizing opportunities and pursuing pathways to college.
Maslon LLP founded UPLIFT in 2016 as a mock trial program for eighth-grade students reflecting the rich diversity of the Twin Cities. UPLIFT currently is offered as an after school program at Columbia Academy in Columbia Heights and at St. Louis Park Middle School. Each year, UPLIFT students study the criminal justice system; analyze and dissect the components of a criminal trial; and develop writing, reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical skills. The program culminates in criminal mock trials before actual Minnesota judges in courtrooms at local law schools. Today, UPLIFT also offers book clubs and other enrichment opportunities to its graduates in support of their path through high school and on to college.
The UPLIFT program is conducted by law student and lawyer volunteers, who serve as teachers and coaches. The mentoring connection between lawyer coaches and UPLIFT students is deep and central to UPLIFT students’ experience, and this makes it incredibly rewarding for volunteers.
2017-2018: PROGRAM LAUNCH
The inaugural program was launched as an after-school program at St. Louis Park Middle School during the 2017-2018 school year. St. Louis Park Middle School, with its strong commitment to racial equity and a diverse student body, was an ideal home for UPLIFT in its inaugural year. UPLIFT students had the opportunity to study the criminal justice system, from the investigation of crimes by police through possible sentencing by judges. They analyzed and dissected the components of a criminal trial, developing writing, reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical skills. On March 13, 2018, UPLIFT students presented criminal mock trials before actual Minnesota judges in courtrooms at the University of Minnesota Law School. Read about the event. Selected images from the event are above.
2018-2019: PROGRAM EXPANSION
After a successful launch at St. Louis Park Middle School, the six-month program expanded to include Columbia Academy in Columbia Heights, Minnesota. On March 14, 2019, Columbia Maslon UPLIFT students presented criminal mock trials before retired Court of Appeals Judge Edward Toussaint at Maslon. St. Louis Park UPLIFT students presented their criminal mock trials before Hennepin County District Court Judge Regina Chu and U.S. Magistrate Judge David Schultz on March 19, 2019, in courtrooms at the University of Minnesota Law School.
2019-2020: PROGRAM DOUBLES IN SIZE
On two dates in March 2020, the students of Maslon UPLIFT—diverse groups of seventh- and eighth-graders from Columbia Academy and St. Louis Park Middle School—presented criminal mock trials before Minnesota judges, culminating their six-month legal institute experience. The number of students that participated in the 2019-2020 program doubled from the previous year, engaging more than 70 students across the schools. To date, 105 middle school students have completed the UPLIFT program.