Field trips are a great way to pique students’ interest in law and the legal system. A well-designed field trip will keep students engaged throughout and give them resources and ways to follow up on the things they learn during the day. A field trip can be a great opportunity to take advantage of space, resources, or professionals not available at the teaching site.
Potential field trip venues include:
- Police station
- Law school
Having planned activities is essential to the success of your field trip, and the type of activities you choose will depend on the venue and the current area of study. Field trips to law schools or law firms provide a blank canvas for activities and special care should go into selecting engaging, educational activities, whereas a field trip to a courthouse or jail might follow a more prescribed agenda.
The field trip should be an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. Activities that include simulation and role-play allow for learning while having a good time. Include a social lunch time where students and adults can interact and learn more about each other. Keep the atmosphere upbeat throughout the day and everyone will have a better experience.
When planning activities for your field trip, be sure that they
- Can be completed during the field trip
- Will keep students engaged, excited, and interested
- Give students insight into related skills and content
- Allow students and volunteers to have fun
- Provide resources for student follow-up
Ideas for Activities
At a field trip, each student activity should be no more than 60–80 minutes in length and give students the opportunity to practice important skills and learn legal content. Since these activities all involve the students doing things, they’re more likely to remain engaged and active than by listening to others talk.
Some great hour-long activities are:
- Mini mock trial: Students learn a short fact pattern, prepare simple arguments for both sides, and hold multiple simultaneous mini mock trials in groups of 3–5.
- Mock negotiation, mediation, and investigation: If you want to teach students about areas of the law they’re not as familiar with, consider holding a mock contract negotiation or a mediation about an intellectual property dispute. When structured in small groups, mock negotiation and mediation allow all students to participate.
- Career Bingo, Lunch with a Professional, and Business Card Exchange: Take part of the day to introduce students to a variety of legal professionals and use an interactive session to let students explore their careers and backgrounds.
- Tour the law school: Have law students lead tours in small groups. Show the high school students the law library, study areas, lecture hall, computer lab, study lounge, etc.
Tips and Suggestions
Work with classroom teachers to identify potential scheduling conflicts like school vacations, activities, and statewide tests. Get the principal or administration involved in scheduling the trip and it is less likely to get canceled or rescheduled later on. Schools will need several weeks’ lead time to successfully plan for a field trip.
Availability and timing of field trip buses depends on the school district. Ask your cooperating teachers whether buses are available and if there are time constraints on their use. If school district buses are unavailable or impractical, consider hiring a school or charter bus to bring the students. Charter buses can be quite expensive, though, so the best option is to structure your day so that it fits the school bus schedule. A good relationship with the school principal may help you secure school-funded field trip buses.
Policies vary by school district. If you’re inviting counselors or administration, they can fill the required chaperone slots. If it will be difficult for the school to release the teacher, offer to pay for a substitute for the day (typically around $120).
Permissions and Liabilities
In most cases, permission slips will be handled by the school, as they would for any other field trip. Be sure to check with the teacher on this point, and to find out whether the students need to sign a separate photo/media release. (Student Image Release Form).
You’ll want to plan on costs associated with any materials, transportation, possible substitute teacher reimbursement, and lunch for students and volunteers.
While a field trip at the law school is a great way to expose students to the campus and to higher education, don’t despair if you can’t reserve enough space at the law school. Ask a local law firm or other organization with appropriate facilities to donate space for the event. Put their name and logo on any press information or signs announcing the program.
Think about the ideal group size for the activities you have planned, for your space, and for the number of participating law students. If you have a large group attending, you’ll want to split the group up for some activities.
Have students fill out a Field Trip Student Reflection Form at the end of the day. Take the students’ comments seriously and adjust the program where necessary.