The Bears partnered with the JustUs System, a non-profit organization, to facilitate the Future Lawyers program, exposing 30 students from Chicago to careers in sports law.
The JustUs system is a nonprofit organization that provides restorative justice support to young people and serves as a pipeline for students interested in the law profession.
Led by the JustUs System's President, Natasha Scruggs, the three-day experience was hosted at Halas Hall during training camp. The Future Lawyers program is part of the club's second-annual Career Expo, which aims to use the Bears' platform to inspire young people from diverse communities to consider careers in sports.
Bears chairman George H. McCaskey, who holds a law degree from Arizona State University, welcomed the students to Halas Hall on their first day. McCaskey felt a sense of gratitude in helping educate students about the different career paths available in sports and within the Bears organization.
"We represent the greatest city in the world and that's a privilege," McCaskey said. "With that privilege comes responsibility. If we can provide some avenue for kids to explore what's available to them, to try new things, I think we have an obligation to do it.
"What impressed me is how committed the students are at that age. I think back - it was a long time ago now - but at that age, I didn't know what I wanted to do. These kids are dedicated; they're determined. For us to provide them with the opportunity to explore what a career in law would be like is an opportunity we can't pass up."
Bears President & CEO Kevin Warren, who earned a law degree from Notre Dame, spoke to the students throughout the 3-day sessions to discuss his role at the organization, how he became a licensed attorney and provide career advice that included his own childhood stories. Warren also shared the value of access. He described an opportunity he received as a college freshman to visit the Supreme Court that would shift his career path toward law.
"I think the key point of this program is exposure," Warren said. "So many times in life, if you are able to have access to something or someone or a career, you never know what that activates in a person, especially a young person. So, there may be some of those talented, young individuals that came here to Halas Hall today who thought they wanted to be lawyers, and this program will help solidify that they do want to be lawyers and that there are so many other opportunities within the legal profession other than working as a litigator or a prosecutor.
"There are so many other jobs you can do with a law degree. There may be some of those young, talented individuals that came here to Halas Hall that never even thought about it and this may cause them to be able to do it."
The Bears' legal team, consisting of senior vice president and general counsel Cliff Stein, associate counsel Elaena Harris, paralegal Gwen Federman and diversity fellow Ariela Gaspar, played a large role in the program's success. The group provided students a firsthand look at what a lawyer's role is at a professional sports organization.
Harris said it was "enlightening to see the lightbulb go off for these kids" after they learned sports law involves more than just player contracts and that "the law dictates almost every decision we make in the building." To be able to help the students realize this type of job is attainable was a "full circle moment" for Harris.
"Chicago is such a diverse city and we have so much opportunity to be impactful here and it's not just on the field," Harris said. "We felt like this was our way to give back to Black students in the city of Chicago and expose them to a lot of different careers. For some of them, it was their first time meeting a lawyer.
"They had never met a lawyer and it was probably cool they met a lawyer who wore [Nike] Dunks to work. Growing up, if I saw somebody [in this role] who looked like me, I would've been really inspired."
Throughout the program, students heard from several panels consisting of various members of the Bears organization. Staff members who went to law school, but hold positions outside of the legal team, discussed how their degree continues to be valuable.
On a panel moderated by Gaspar, Stein, general manager Ryan Poles and director of football administration Matt Feinstein taught the students about player contracts and negotiating tactics. Fullback Khari Blasingame visited the students after practice and talked about the value lawyers and sports agents hold in a player's life regarding their contract or brand deals.
On the students' final day at Halas Hall, after getting a private tour of Soldier Field as well as interfacing with a judge from Chicago's circuit court, Warren and McCaskey sat down for a Q&A with the students.
To close out the kids' experience, McCaskey surprised them with tickets to the Bears' final preseason game against the Bills.
"It felt like our students got the chance of a lifetime," Scruggs said. "It just doesn't happen like this where they can have access to all the top people in the front office. I feel like this is going to change their lives – I know it is. I remember every opportunity I received; it changed my life. It's going to change their mental perspective of what is possible."
After spending time with the students on the first and last days of the Future Lawyers program, Warren noticed a different in their confidence and knowledge about sports law. He committed to plans of amplifying the Future Lawyers program on a yearly basis and is excited to keep up with the students' futures.
"Even by Day 3, I could see a transformation as far as the impact this environment had," Warren said. "So really that's what it's all about, is being able to use this platform to make the community a better place and to help people along their journey. I'm confident that a lot of those young people one day will have brilliant careers in the sports legal business."