Bringing the Legal Community into Your Classroom

Involving people from your community can really bring the law to life for your students. It also helps you, the teacher, accurately convey information about content areas that are complex or constantly changing (e.g., immigration law and intellectual property law).

Community resource people can be used to

  • Make the lessons come alive by sharing firsthand experiences and real-world examples

  • Answer students' questions

  • Provide technical assistance in implementing activities such as mock trials and moot courts

  • Serve as positive adult role models

Additionally, the presence of lawyers or other professionals in the classroom serves as a powerful message to young people that there are adults in positions of power and authority that do care about them, their thoughts, opinions, and futures.

Consider inviting some of the following community members into your Street Law classroom:

  • Police officers/school resource officers: Consider inviting law enforcement officials into your Street Law classroom when you address issues of criminal law and the criminal justice process. They can share real life stories, bring in artifacts and present criminal justice from their perspective. Bringing law enforcement officials into your classroom has the added benefit of fostering positive community relationships in the process! Contact your local police or sheriff's department, or simply invite your school’s SRO (school resource officer) to create this opportunity. (Learn about our Police & Teens Program.)

  • Lawyers, judges, and paralegals: At nearly any point within a Street Law course, legal professionals could add relevant insight to complex legal topics. They could help students better understand case law, expand on concepts such as due process or civil liability, or simply share what they do day-to-day. Many large law firms have already established pro bono community outreach programs which support classroom visits. (Learn about our Legal Community Partnership Programs.)

  • Law makers: Lawmaking is a complex process that can vary depending on the location and level. Inviting legislators, whether federal, state, or local, into your classroom can help students better understand the complexities and realities of this process. Law makers are often looking for ways to connect with their constituents (or future constituents) and a classroom visit can create a learning opportunity for both your students and the law maker. At the local or state level you could contact the legislator directly, however, at the federal level you may need to work through a staff member to organize a visit. 

  • Law students: If you have a law school in your community, consider including law students as a potential legal resource. Street Law supports law school programs across the country that connect law students with local classrooms and community settings to teach about law. Check out our program locations to see if there is an active Street Law program at a law school near you. 

Keep in mind, simply bringing a community resource person into a classroom is not sufficient to create a positive learning experience. You must work to ensure that the experience is a positive one for you, your students, and the special guest. Without proper preparation, resource people may be unable to empower the students. Make sure you take the opportunity to prepare your visitor. Share the objective of the class and how the visit fits into the overall unit goals. Help them understand that lecturing should be kept to a minimum and help them develop a way to effectively engage students in their area of expertise. Finally, give students the opportunity to debrief the visit and connect to past or future learning.

Bringing Your Students into the Legal Community

Taking the opportunity to bring students into your legal community can promote an even deeper understanding of how our legal, law enforcement, and judicial systems function. Making these connections can take a number of forms that may include the following:

  • Field trips: Consider bringing students to your local courts to view arraignments, to the police station for a tour of the facilities, or your state legislature or town council for an up close look at lawmaking. All of these trips outside the classroom would require you to schedule a visit. Many legal institutions have clerks who can help plan and prepare for the field experience. Also, check with your school to make sure the resources exist to support outside field trips.

  • Job shadows or internships: Many school districts are recognizing the benefits of creating job shadow or internship opportunities for students within the school year. These opportunities provide students with the chance to consider (or discount) possible career pathways. Institutions, such as your state legislature, may have established internship programs. However, if you reach out to other organizations, such as local law firms or law enforcement agencies, they may be willing to discuss the possibility of creating job shadow or internship experiences. While liability may be an issue for some organizations, others might focus more on the overall benefits of such an arrangement, especially if employment is a need.

  • Service-learning projects: Many school districts also have established service-learning projects and structures to support the creation of such programs. Many service-learning projects have a legal theme or bend and could become part of your class. If your school supports service-learning for students, it could become a natural part of any Street Law classroom.