This interview originally appeared in the International Journal of Public Legal Education, Vol. 2, No. 1 (2018).
Marilyn Cover, JD, is a 40-year veteran of teaching the Street Law Seminar class at Lewis & Clark Law School.
JD, is 16-year veteran of teaching Street Law at the University of
Minnesota Law School, following 15 years teaching of Street Law at
Hamline University School of Law.
How is Your Street Law Course Organized?
Marilyn: The Street Law program at
Lewis & Clark includes not only the weekly classes between law
professor and students, but also weekly meetings with law students
teaching in high school classes. The law school class is offered as a
credit/no credit class. We use the Street Law text covering Intro to
Law, Criminal & Juvenile Law and Individual Rights and Liberties in
the fall semester and the civil law units- torts, consumer and family
law in the spring semester. Between 30-40 law students participate each
Jennifer: Like many other Street Law
courses in the United States, the Minnesota Street Law seminar consists
of a small class of 14 students gathering for a weekly two-hour
seminar. During this time, law students explore the history and goals of
Street Law and participate in engaging teaching strategies (mock trial,
moot courts, continuums, small group, ranking, and many others). Every
teaching strategy is layered over legal content (first amendment, rights
of the accused, employment, sexual harassment, consumer, etc.) to
create effective and interesting lessons. As we proceed through the
semester, the students build their collection of tried and true
law-related education tools. Students share their engaging lessons when
they teach 10 hours in area high schools. They are paired with
experienced law and civics teachers and together select topics that
complement the teacher’s curriculum. Law students review the available
lessons in the Street Law collection and elsewhere, revise as needed,
present, and share reflections on the lesson’s success or need for
improvement. Every law student also creates an original lesson that is
tried with classmates during the weekly seminar.
How is Street Law Different from Other Law School Classes?
Marilyn: I have seen a lot in my 40
years. Street Law is very different from other law school classes and
those differences have far-reaching benefits.
Street Law tends to attract law students who are
interested in the practical application of the law, being out in the
community, and interacting with youth. My sense is that the law students
have a pre-existing sense of altruism. In my Street Law program, law
students have the unique opportunity to have hands-on classroom
experiences with youth in their communities, and that helps fill their
need to do good works.
Jennifer: When Street Law students
walk out of their first class of the Street Law Seminar at the
University of Minnesota Law School, they know at least one goal of the
course1. After learning the course components and requirements through an “Each One Teach One” and a “Jeopardy” game2,
they usually can correctly answer the final Jeopardy question: “Street
Law is different from most other law school courses for this reason.”
Answer: “What is fun?”
Teaching is Hard. How do you prepare students to be successful in the classroom?
Marilyn: Unlike the typical law
school class, the seminar setting of my weekly class is an intimate one.
Our discussions focus on how to convey legal concepts in lesson plans
and how students learn. One student may describe an enormously
successful teaching strategy in one class only to find that it falls
flat in another. Conversations around situations like this are layered
and insightful. I also observe law students teaching in their high
When in high school classrooms, law students’ lessons
focus, for example, on search and seizure of students’ backpacks, or
reading one’s first apartment lease. Whatever the topic, law students
experience real dialog about real issues in the daily lives of high
school students. In doing so, they gain skills that are easily transferable to the workplace. The seminar discussions include public
policy, trial practice, and communication skills with clients as part of
the lessons the law students prepare for their high school students.
When law students discover that they are able to convey complex legal
content to the lay public – high schools students are, after all, the
perfect petri dish for communication – they gain incalculable
confidence. That ability to clearly communicate, and to do so with
confidence, serves them well in their legal careers.
Jennifer: “To teach is to learn twice.” (Joseph Joubert)
There is nothing like preparing for a presentation
that inspires a person to update their subject matter knowledge. Street
Law students take their responsibilities seriously to provide accurate
information to their high school students. The risk of getting it wrong
is stressed in the weekly Street Law seminar. For example, when high
school students participate in a misleading lesson on what to do when
stopped by the police, a misunderstanding of their rights can be
devastating. Street Law students frequently discuss how their
understanding of the law increased when they prepared to teach it.
Students research, write and present lessons to their Street Law
classmates where content is reviewed and potential misunderstandings or
mistakes about the law are identified and corrected. Street Law faculty,
both lawyers, review the final lesson. In addition to the lesson
students write, they have access to hundreds of lessons written by other
Street Law students over the years. Students are asked to update the
law before they use the lesson and are asked to share the updated lesson
for others to use.
Another requirement of our Street Law seminar
requires small groups of law students to develop and present a lesson to
the other Street Law students. These lessons include an expanded
presentation of the law designed for law students shy in content
knowledge. After each lesson, all law students share ideas for improving
the lesson and using it in different settings including with high-needs
students. Insights learned during this informal discussion build skills
for teaching law to their high students and with future clients.
Students also learn the importance of preparation and
practice. We all enjoy watching the delivery of a television show’s
awe-inspiring closing argument. It looks so easy. We also know it’s not.
When a high school class meets for 50 minutes, law students cannot be
scrambling to figure out the next step. It is important for them to plan
how they will describe the law to people unfamiliar with the law,
checking for understanding and making adjustments as they go.
How Else Do Law Students Benefit from Street Law Beyond the Classroom?
Marilyn: Many law students leave
Street Law with an indelible connection to the high school where they
taught. Some develop a predisposition to seek other opportunities to
serve their communities. The seed for giving back to the community is
sown in the Street Law seminar. Many of my former students practice in
the Portland area. I see them working in an array of non-profit
organizations and public entities.
My role as professor expands, therefore, to that of
advisor, counselor, and confidante. As a result of our interactions
through papers, classes, lessons, observations and discussions, by the
semester’s end I know these students. I am often, even years
later, sought out for purposes of a reference or recommendation for
potential employment. These are rich relationships and worth nurturing.
Jennifer: Much of the law school
experience in other courses consists of individual work. Friendships
develop and some students study together, however so often the law
students’ success in law school depends on themselves alone. This is not
the case in Street Law. Street Law students usually teach together.
They work in partnership with the classroom teachers to select topics
that are interesting to the high school students and support the
teacher’s curriculum plan. They select dates and times. They meet the
students before they begin teaching, introducing themselves. They are
professionals. My law students have often said that Street Law lets them
do what they came to law school to do. It restores them. They want to
help solve problems and Street Law provides an avenue for them to share
what they know to improve the lives of the students they teach.
How Does the Community Benefit from Street Law Students?
Marilyn: In my day job, I run Classroom Law Project (CLP),
a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to civic education for
kindergarten through 12-grade (ages 4-18 year olds). The Street Law
seminar class and its students are the linchpin of CLP. CLP has eleven
different programs ranging from the statewide high school mock trial
competition, to courthouse tours for 4,000 students annually, to weekly
online current events viewed by thousands of educators. All programs
rely on volunteers. When I assign law students to local high schools,
the equation is greater than 1 + 1. Benefitting from the connection are
not only the law school and high school students, but also the high
school teachers and administrators, the law school, Classroom Law
Project, and the broader legal community.
When my wet-behind-the-ears law students eventually
evolve into seasoned law professionals, there is meaningful citizen
engagement to be found. Among my former students are lawyers and civic
leaders. They are judges on Oregon’s circuit and appellate benches. They
are in the state legislature. They are members of Classroom Law
Project’s board of directors. When I need volunteers for our next event –
speakers, scholars, judges, guides – I know who to call.
I have taught two semesters of Street Law every year
for the past 40 years. At roughly 30 students per year, there are about
1200 alumni. They are ambassadors for Classroom Law Project, the law
school, the high school, the community, or all of the above. In any
case, another 30 potential new volunteers are added to my list every
Jennifer: One of the more
significant Street Law goals is contribution to the community. Law
students enroll in Street Law because they want to give back and the
best way to do that is to share their new knowledge with others in need.
Any Final Thoughts?
Marilyn: Classroom Law Project’s
mission statement is, “…individuals, educators, lawyers, and civic
leaders building strong communities by teaching students to be active
citizens.” Street Law serves that mission. From law student to high
school student to teacher, from lawyer to volunteer to legislator,
communities are strengthened. Street Law is making a difference.
Jennifer: I am also the executive director of Learning Law and Democracy, a Minnesota non-profit organization that sponsors programs to
foster civic learning, teaching what it takes to tackle the most
important role of citizen. Because in a self-governing society, we all
must step to the plate to do our part to advance the constitutional
experiment. Street Law helps build the leaders we need. At the end of
every Street Law course, I ask the students to reflect on what they have
learned that will help them be a better lawyer. Without exception over
the many years, they talk about how they want to be leaders in their
communities. They want to get involved in improving civic education in
their schools. They want to make a difference.
 These goals are:
- Understanding of substantive law;
- Knowledge of legal procedures;
- Ability to Communicate;
- Skills in solving legal problems and client-centered lawyering;
- Planning and Preparation;
- Skills in Self-Assessing and Evaluating;
- Development of a Sense of Professionalism;
- Development of an Appreciation of the Role of the Lawyer in the Community.
 “Each One Teach One” is an activity that asks
students to teach other students about the facts of the course. Jeopardy
game is similar to a television show of that name. Students compete in
teams to be the first to answer a question correctly. The questions
concern facts of the course. These two strategies are more fun and more
effective than a lecture teaching basic information about the course.
The final question reinforces the commitment to make learning fun.