Webinar: "How to Start a Street Law Program at Your Law School"
Street Law programs give law students a unique opportunity to develop important skills while contributing to their communities by teaching practical lessons in classrooms and community-based organizations.
Anchored by Margaret Fisher, renowned Street Law educator and coordinator of the Seattle University Law School Street Law Program, this webinar focuses on the basic “how to…” steps that are important for establishing a strong foundation for a successful Street Law program.
Law school-based Street Law programs typically follow one of the following models.
- Credit-bearing Street Law model Law students teach non-lawyers, receive academic credit, and attend a seminar taught by a law professor. Law students learn about a variety of innovative teaching strategies specifically geared to teaching law to laypersons. Some law schools classify Street Law as a clinic under this model.
- Pro bono or public service Street Law model This is an ideal model for law schools with a public service requirement and can take many forms. Since there is no academic requirement, generally, law students can decide where they teach and what they teach. These programs are anchored by the law school’s pro bono coordinator.
- Student group model This model is run through the development of a Street Law student group.
- Paid Street Law model In this infrequently used model, law schools hire students to teach Street Law classes.
- Part of another credit-bearing class Professors can incorporate a Street Law requirement into another class. For example, a criminal procedure class could require law students to teach lessons at a local juvenile justice facility.
The credit-bearing model is recommended by Street Law, Inc. Generally, credit-bearing programs are more likely to become institutionalized, provide quality training and supervision, and gain recognition as an important opportunity for law student professional development.
The credit-bearing model has three major components:
- A regular, usually weekly, seminar to instruct law students in applicable law and appropriate teaching techniques and to provide a mechanism for program coordination.
- A requirement that the law students teach two or three times a week, depending on the site and the number of credits awarded for program participation.
- Adequate on-site observation/supervision of the law students by the law school faculty or appropriate staff.
How Many Credits Should Law Students Receive?
The number of credits will vary depending on the individual policies of law schools and/or the nature of the program. Law students generally receive between two and four credits each semester. It is recommended that law students be awarded as many credits as possible given the extensive time commitment of planning for and teaching classes, attending seminars, and researching local laws.
In general, law students teach three hours per week and attend a weekly two hour seminar. In some schools, law students teach hourly sessions three times a week or 90 minute sessions twice a week. In other models, law students teach three hours one evening a week for six weeks.
Credit-Bearing Model Seminary
Street Law seminars for credit-bearing models take several forms. Most programs tend to have an on-going seminar (sometimes front loaded early in the semester). Others have a few training sessions followed by a meeting or two. Some programs focus the seminar on other law school priorities like plain language legal writing or knowledge of local laws.
Seminar structure will vary depending on the objectives of your Street Law program. The overarching goals of the seminar are: 1) to teach student instructors how to teach, and 2) to teach student instructors substantive legal doctrine. As a general guideline, seminars should:
- model active learner-centered classes (e.g., seminars should be interactive where law students participate in role plays, mock trials, class discussions, and simulations);
- provide law students with a substantive understanding of the topics they will teach, including state laws;
- discuss connections between teaching Street Law and law student professional development
- inform students about educational administrative manners, including grading, holidays, law school exam periods, relationships with cooperating teachers and administrators, and the use of school resources; and
- link law students to resources to support their efforts
Seminar Example from the Field—Georgetown University Law Center's D.C. Street Law Clinic
The D.C. Street Law Project devotes at least six seminar hours each semester to demonstration teachings. Teams of law students model an innovative lesson based upon a substantive issue chosen by the law student from suggested topic areas. A lesson analysis, where the seminar participants discuss what worked well and opportunities for improvement, follows the lesson demonstration.
The demonstration teachings are intended to meet several goals of the Street Law Clinic. First, they maximize opportunities for law student participation in the seminar by giving them greater responsibility for its operation. Second, they develop important professional development skills (issue analysis, planning and preparation, reflection, articulation of the law, speaking and listening ability, questioning ability, and judgment). Third, they provide fellow clinical participants with substantive information and innovative lesson ideas, which can be used or adapted as needed. Fourth, they furnish an opportunity for evaluations and critique in a supportive environment.
Pro Bono/Public Service Model
The advantages of this model are its adaptability. Law students can participate without great time commitments and respond to pertinent issues affecting the community. For the growing number of law schools adopting public service requirements, this model provides an excellent opportunity for law students to fulfill these requirements. In the best models, a law school staff member, such as the public interest coordinator, directs the program and offers training, placement, and technical assistance. The disadvantages of this model often include no supporting structure, inadequate training, and fewer opportunities for professional development.
The pro bono or public service Street Law model can take many forms. Since there is no academic requirement, generally, law students can decide where they teach and what they teach.
Student Group Model
Many law schools have Street Law groups developed by a group of law students and based on a community need. Some have elected student boards with detailed responsibilities for each board position. The advantages of this model are high visibility and the ability to place large numbers of students at schools or community sites. The major disadvantage of this model is that success is often tied to the commitment of a small group of active law students and long term sustainability can be difficult.
Sometimes law students volunteer to teach a course in practical law as a result of their participation in an already established student organization or community group (e.g., the Equal Justice Foundation, Phi Alpha Delta, the Black Law Student Association, Students Against Violence, Students Against the Death Penalty).
The National Black Law Students Association has created a checklist for starting a Street Law program based on the student group model used by the University of Texas - Austin.
Paid Street Law Model
This model is used by only a few law schools. In one version, second and third year law students are paid to teach and do not receive academic credit. Law students apply for the positions. Upon selection, the students commit to 20 hours a week for a period of approximately 12 weeks each semester. Student directors supervise the law students. Often, these directors are third year law students who taught in their second year. The duties of the student directors include: recruiting new student instructor applicants; interviewing and assisting in the hiring of student instructor staff; helping with class scheduling; training new students; and writing up-to-date lesson plans.
Advantages of this model include:
- Second year law student teachers can continue as student directors in their third year;
- A committed student teaching body can be selected;
- Student directors develop administrative, interpersonal and management skills.
Disadvantages include the need for funding and the small number of opportunities for law student participation.
Street Law classes are taught by law students in high schools, community settings, and correctional institutions throughout the United States and in more than 25 countries.
Selecting a site
Site selection will vary tremendously depending on the audience targeted for your Street Law program. For credit-bearing* and non-credit-bearing** models alike, it is important to address the following questions:
- What are the goals of your Street Law program? How do those goals impact the selection of your audience?
- Is there a reliable contact person at the site?
- Does Street Law support the mission of the site?
- Does the Street Law program have the institutional support of the site?
- Is the time ripe for a Street Law program (e.g., is the site too new to support a program or is there too much staff turnover)?
- Does the proposed schedule of Street Law classes correspond to the law school calendar?
- Are there adequate facilities at the site for the law students to teach there?
- Is there a critical mass of students (at least seven; 15-17 is ideal) who will attend the Street Law classes on a consistent basis?
- Can law students readily access the site?
- How will the site benefit the law school's reputation in the community?
*Most credit-bearing programs select sites where Street Law can be taught to adults or high school students. This is primarily because the legal content in the programs geared toward an older audience is more rigorous.
**If you are not offering Street Law for credit then you may also want to consider offering Street Law to younger audiences, such as youth in elementary or middle school, in after-school settings, or in Boys and Girls Clubs.
Special Considerations for School-Based Sites
High school law elective courses are taught in many schools. Contact the school district’s social studies coordinator or the school’s social studies department head to find out if they offer a law elective.
If a law elective is not offered, law students can teach Street Law lessons in government, civics, history, and after-school programs. In designing the program for schools, it is helpful to align the law student taught lessons with the content being taught in the course. This is easiest when working with a law elective class and probably most difficult when working with a history class. Civics and government courses typically have existing instructional units dedicated to the judicial system, civil rights, and laws.
For schools without a law elective, the success of law student taught lessons may help lay the groundwork fro adding a new course (e.g., law, law and justice, youth and the law, or the American legal system).
Some questions to help you select school-based sites include:
- Where can practical lessons be taught? Is there an existing practical law class offered in the school?
- Does the state have government or social studies core learning goals? How does Street Law connect to these?
- Are there cooperating teachers (law, government, civics, etc.) where you want to participate?
- What policies affect field trips, guest speakers, handling controversial issues, and teacher-student relationships?
- What are the school's grading requirements?
- What is the school's schedule?
- Who will purchase the textbooks and other materials?