When Janice Footman begins working in the Office of the Public Defender, Baltimore County, later this fall, she’ll realize a dream that’s been two decades in the making.
An early start
At age 13, Footman was a student at Deer Park Middle Magnet School. Enrolled in the school’s mass communications program, she studied broadcast through units about radio, television, and other industry technologies. But, through those units, Footman said she also learned about something else, something that sparked her curiosity about law.
“One of our units in that program was a public speaking unit,” she said. “And part of that was a mock trial…. We had a mini trial, and I really enjoyed doing that, more than the other things I had gotten to do previously when I was in school.”
With her new-found interest guiding her, Footman looked for ways to study law in greater depth. In the fall of her Grade 8 year, she researched Baltimore County Public Schools’ magnet programs and found Towson High School’s Law and Public Policy (LPP) program. After a visit, she decided to apply.
“When there was open house time at Towson,” Footman said, “I found they had a Law and Public Policy magnet. And, so, I went with my parents to the open house, and I applied and got in.”
Starting at Towson High in 2002, Footman spent the next four years studying core subjects, like English and mathematics, in addition to law-related ones, such as legal research and trial advocacy. She also experienced the legal profession firsthand, speaking with practicing attorneys and visiting local courthouses. By the end of her senior year, Footman said the program had given her a solid foundation in law.
“It helped me to know a lot more about how our court system works,” she said. “It taught me how to prepare a direct examination, how important the closing is, just how the form and structure of our court system really works, and about our court of appeals here in the state.”
When Footman graduated from BCPS in 2006, she went on to attend the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. But, while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in political science and Spanish, Footman said she followed the path she began at Towson High.
“I think being at Towson helped guide my career choices when I came into undergrad,” she said. “I was able to take classes that I thought would help me advance my legal career. So I took Spanish classes, and I took a few legal classes. And I had familiarity with different testing and the [Law School Admission Test] LSAT and things like that.”
In addition to the knowledge and direction she gained, Footman said the LPP program prepared her in another way for the future. By including class field trips to real courtrooms, the program helped Footman feel comfortable in the environment she hoped to work in.
“I think also you just come in with a familiarity with the court system,” she said about a benefit of the program. “I mean, [in college], a lot of people, if they know that they want to go to law school, probably already visit court a bit and know how things work. But I feel like I was more comfortable with it because I had known how to sit in one since I was in high school.”
A promising future
To build on what she had been learning in school, Footman said she also took on several internships. Starting at the Hispanic Apostolate, now the Esperanza Center, in high school, Footman pursued other public service opportunities throughout college. In 2014 at the University of Baltimore School of Law, she also participated in a clinic at the juvenile division of the Office of the Public Defender. With help from the connections she made there, Footman said she found a way to stay even after her clinic ended.
“I contacted some of the people I had met, and I took an application,” she said. “I volunteered at the office just to learn more and get more experience.”
For the last two years, Footman has continued to develop her knowledge and skills primarily through bail reviews. On occasion, however, she also has worked with her own clients, helping them at each step of their cases.
“I was able to move to a different office within in the same city and actually take on cases,” Footman said. “So I’ve had my own clients that I contact and work with and represent in court to try to see if we can get a reasonable outcome for them throughout the life of their case.”
Between completing bail reviews and representing clients, Footman said she spends much of her time in courtrooms. But, soon enough, she’ll be spending even more. Offered a job as an assistant public defender, Footman will begin working full time at the office this September.
“I’m excited to start it and see where it goes,” she said about her new job. “I already enjoy the office so much, and I love all the people that I work with, and I can see myself staying there for a long time.”
As Footman looks forward her future, though, she still takes time to remember her past. In particular, she reflects on her education and the impact BCPS has had.
“It really comes down to focus and learning about myself and know what I wanted to do,” Footman said. “Because I had these experiences and I learned and knew what I wanted to do, I was able to take [Advanced Placement] AP classes. So, when I went to college, I didn’t have to spend as much time or as much money. And I started at a higher level because I was focused and I knew where I wanted to go.”
With her dream career on the horizon now, Footman said she feels not only accomplished but thankful. Sharing her appreciation for those who supported her education, she also thanks BCPS for providing it.
“Where I am now has just been a great blessing, and it’s not something I could have done on my own,” Footman said. “I think you can get a good education in public schools, and I think that, if you put your mind to it and if you really take charge of your education and the opportunities that come, you can get a great, great education. I know I did.”
Through its magnet and other college- and career-readiness programs, BCPS prepares students for successful futures. For more information about BCPS magnet programs, click here. To read about other BCPS alumni accomplishments, click here.