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What we've learned from our Street Law trial

30 January 2015 | tagged New lawyers news

Rob Marrs

Rob Marrs, senior policy and development manager at the Law Society of Scotland, explains what lessons have been learned from the Street Law scheme so far and why it's creating a stir in classrooms up and down Scotland.

"Absolute Dyno!" A pupil at Castlemilk High School

"We have a lot of external agencies, who approach us to host events in the school, I have to say that the Street Law students surpassed those external agencies." Andrew Sharkey, Head Teacher, St Kentigern’s Academy

"The law students were fantastic with the pupils. They are always well-prepared. I’m very impressed. If they don’t fancy a career in law, they could definitely become teachers." Denise Currie, Modern Studies Teacher, St Paul’s High School

Back with a bang

Most folk spend their first weekend back after the Christmas break either finishing off any remaining Christmas chocolate, watching a box-set, or – let’s face it – both.

At the Law Society, however, we hosted a two-day training weekend for law students. Before they were even back at university, they travelled to Drumsheugh Gardens to learn about Street Law.

Happily, the Society received funding from a legal education charity last year to help us train this new generation of Street Lawyers. With that finance secured, we invited colleagues from Harvard and Georgetown (the home of Street Law and where the world’s most extensive programme is organised) to do the training.

What's involved?

So what is Street Law? It is an interactive, engaging programme that places law students in high schools to teach schools pupils about the law, the legal system, and legal principles. It teaches practical, relevant law to non-lawyers. It should be engaging. It should be fun. It should really stretch the pupils. Crucially, whilst always absolutely grounded in the law, it isn’t about black-letter law but rather concepts, principles and application.

So a lesson on statutory interpretation might involve giving pupils a badly drafted, basic law (‘No children in the streets at night’), giving them some reasoning as to why the law exists, and then asking them to look at a number of examples of behaviour and asking them to decide whether the individuals in those examples have breached either the letter or the spirit of the law (or both!).

By the end of the lesson, the pupils have worked through those examples but also will drafted a better law (No under 16s in the streets, unless accompanied by a responsible adult, between the hours of 9pm and 6am). They’ll have learnt some drafting principles, some interpretation skills and spent most of the lesson using higher level thinking skills. Working together they work out the answers and push each other and the Street Law trainers on to new levels.

Positive feedback

We launched our Street Law programme last autumn (in Glasgow and West Lothian). The feedback has been astonishing so far and, on the back of the hard-work of the first bunch of Street Law Trainers, more and more schools are contacting us and wanting their pupils to benefit. Teachers and pupils who have been through the programme have raved about its quality and its breadth of coverage. The law students design the lessons and, so far, have been endlessly creative – lessons have spanned human rights, constitutional law, domestic abuse, and mock trials.

The law students may have designed the lesson but it is the pupils who make it happen. Rather than learning ‘this is what a trial looks like’ they may be asked to take part in a mini-trial (and everyone has a role to play) or they may be asked to form juries, look at a real case and evaluate the evidence. That is the genius of the Street Law method: the pupil is at the heart of everything that happens and the drive the content and course of the lesson.

Many benefits

This isn’t simply about encouraging people to study law. If pupils enjoy Street Law then, yes, studying law is an option. The schools we generally work with aren’t schools that produce lots of LLB students so more students from those backgrounds is a good thing. More importantly though are the 20 or so other pupils in a class who suddenly realise that law isn’t some concept for other people but actually something they engage with every day. It is those 20 pupils who really matter here – they engage with the law, analyse the law and end up with a better understanding of the law.

It also benefits the law students. They have to distil their legal knowledge into something that is understandable to non-lawyers but, more than that, have to make it engaging, interesting and interactive. They have to practice speaking in a room full of people who may or may not be interested. They have to know the law inside out because they can be sure that they’ll get asked awkward questions. All skills that will be useful whether they go on to practise law or, whisper it quietly, if they jump professions and become teachers!

For more information, visit our Street Law page.

Street Law (the story so far)

The schools and the law students they worked with:

Glasgow
Castlemilk: Jacob Tomnay & Jack Smith
Castlemilk: Paul Pattison & Amy Motherwell
Eastbank: Anna Falconer & Kirsty Lauder
Lochend: Alex Gibb & Robbie Jones
St Paul’s: Ifigenia Herrera Temesio & Jack Harty
St Roch’s: Nikki Gordon & Catriona Smith

West Lothian:
Broxburn: Cartiona Smith & Hayley Stewart
Deans Community High School: Sarah Moffatt & Robbie Reid
St Kentigern’s Academy: Rona MacLeod & Emily Hunter

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