Street Law's public legal education programs — where law students teach the public practical law — exist in more than 125 law schools around the world.
September 28, 2009
New Haven, CT
Carla Cartwright is an associate chief counsel for the United States Food and Drug Administration. She’s been an attorney working in the Washington, DC, area since graduating from Yale Law School in 2000. While at Yale, Carla was active in their law school-based Street Law program and taught practical law to high school students and teen parents in New Haven, CT. After law school, Carla was a fellow at the Street Law Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center — the clinical program out of which Street Law, Inc. grew.
Giving young parents the tools they need
I was introduced to Street Law as a first year student at Yale Law School. Street Law was a student-run volunteer organization at Yale, and I was captivated by the idea of working with high school students in the New Haven Public Schools.
I worked with Street Law each year that I was in law school and eventually used lessons and strategies from Street Law’s Parents and the Law program with a group of teenage parents through Yale’s Community Legal Services Clinic. Parents and the Law teaches practical legal information to young parents to strengthen families and prevent child abuse and neglect.
I was constantly amazed by how much the students enjoyed the Street Law lessons and how much they took from them. It was incredibly gratifying to hear the teenage moms, many of them the first in their families to attend U.S. high schools, talking about the strategies and skills they learned through Street Law and how they were using them to access child support and benefits programs that would allow them to continue their educations and create better lives with their families.
As law students, we were also struck by how accessible Street Law was to students from diverse backgrounds and to those with limited literacy skills. We loved working with the high school students on using their analytic and advocacy skills.
Connecting with the community
Street Law really helped my friends and I connect with the community in way we would not have otherwise. It took us beyond the very privileged walls of the law school into a place where the law really affected the everyday lives of individuals and taught us that we could use our skills to help anyone. In the process of breaking down legal concepts like torts and contractual obligations for not only lay people, but young people, we had to master and internalize the law on a different level. I found new appreciation for the cases I read about when I was able to turn them into mini mock trials for my students. Seeing their enthusiasm and excitement about the current events we discussed helped me appreciate that law was all around me and the power of my education.
Unlocking the power of law
Being a lawyer means that one has had access to an excellent education. It means that you have literacy skills, critical thinking skills, choices about what you do and how you react; it means that you have power. Street Law is a way of sharing that with others, a way of helping everyone unlock the power of the law. That is ultimately what being a lawyer should be about and can be one of the best parts of what we do. Our society can only be improved if more and more people understand their rights and responsibilities and know how to advocate for themselves, their communities, and their families. Street Law is like the old adage: you can give a man a fish and feed him for a day, or you can teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.
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(Reproduced with permission)
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