Law student volunteers outside the detention center after their first time teaching. From left to right: Allison Kretz, Markus Lyytinen, Julia Kazmers, Joseph Cennamo, Adam Centner, Britney Bennet.
November 30, 2010
Law school-based Street Law Programs—where law students teach the public practical law—exist in more than 70 law schools across the country and around the world. The article below is the first in a series of participating law school profiles. If you are interested in having your program featured, please contact Allison Hawkins.
Who: Allison Kretz (3L)
Role: President of the Street Law program at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, OH.
About the program
The Street Law program at Case follows the student group model—where participating students join the club as an extracurricular and volunteer their time. For the 2009–10 school year, the group had 25 volunteers, and at the start of the 2010–11 year, more than doubled in size to 60 volunteers.
Just like many Street Law programs, participating law students go into high school classrooms to teach about the law—except this public school is located in the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center. Each week law students teach practical law lessons to 30 male students between the ages of 14 and 17 at the facility’s education center, located in downtown Cleveland.
Curriculum and instruction
Social studies teachers at the detention center already used the Street Law: A Course in Practical Law, so it and Street Law for Juvenile Justice Programs serve as the foundation of the curriculum. Law student coordinators hand-pick the most relevant lessons and students learn about topics like the intent of the law, discrimination, the First Amendment, and abuse and neglect. Kretz coordinates with juvenile public defenders in Cleveland and Columbus (OH) to ensure that the lessons are adapted to accurately reflect local and state laws.
On Monday of each week, law student volunteers assemble to receive and review the lesson that they will be teaching on Friday. This gives the students a chance to familiarize themselves with the content and to research and rehearse as necessary.
This Street Law program has found that a small group format best suits the high school students and the setting in which they teach, so during class sessions, each law student teaches a small group of 3–4 high school students.
Plans for the future
Now that the program has plenty of law student participants they hope to form a one-on-one mentoring program for juveniles scheduled to be in the facility for the long-term, in addition to the classroom teaching. The program also aspires to move toward a credit-bearing, clinical model.
Ensuring that the program remains in capable hands after she graduates in 2011 has become a priority for Kretz, who is currently grooming two 2Ls to take over her post as president.
Q: What is your favorite Street Law lesson to teach?
A: My favorite lesson that we taught last year was the abuse and neglect lesson because it involves concepts that many of the high school students are familiar with, and may encounter themselves if they are already parents (which some of them are in our detention center), and it ends with the mock trial that they really got into.
Q: What advice can you offer to other law students participating in a law school-based Street Law program?
A: Get as much as you can out of your own involvement in the program while making the program better for future student members at the same time. You can do this by getting as many people involved in your program as possible—faculty at the law school and other departments on campus, alumni who work with youth in some capacity, and especially the local and state public defenders office. In doing so, Street Law becomes a great way to learn about issues affecting youth and can springboard into new opportunities that you might not have known were out there.
Q: How does a law school-based Street Law program make law students better equipped to practice law?
A: It exposes them to new population and forces them, on a technical level, to explain the law to people that don’t know anything about it using words and concepts that they can understand. Taking the law from this complicated written thing to a very basic thing that a lay person can understand teaches law students substantive law and builds confidence.
Q: What is the most satisfying aspect of leading this program?
A: I love seeing the law students experiencing something new that forces them out of their comfort zones. When they walk out of the detention center after their first time teaching and everyone is energized and smiling and they just want to do it again!
I love seeing the high school students surprise us. They really are smart! We did a lesson on child abuse and neglect and it ends with a mini mock trial. Each group played the roles of judges, lawyers from the child protection agency, defense attorneys, and the guardians ad litem. These kids were phenomenal at arguing their points back and forth. The fact that many of them have been through the system really enriched the whole trial. As I was sitting back and watching them argue, I was thinking to myself that they might be better at being a lawyer than I am! If you get the right topic, you can really get them going on something and that’s exciting to witness.
Q: How has your participation in Street Law affected you?
A: Street Law made me realize that juvenile law is what I want to do. Now that I think back on it, almost all of my previous jobs and internships involved working with kids. But until Street Law, I didn’t realize that there was a way, now that I’m in law school, to merge those two interests. Street Law really made me think about how I can incorporate education and teaching in my career. This past summer I worked for the guardian ad litem in Pittsburgh, and I wouldn’t have applied for that job if not for my experience with Street Law and I really glad that I did because it confirms that that’s the path that I want to take.
(Reproduced with permission)
Law School Programs
Topic: Civic & Law-Related Education
Topic: Underserved Youth