About Our Clinic
The D.C. Street Law Clinic program offers two separate programs: the Street Law High Schools Clinic and the Street Law Community Clinic. Both clinics provide a unique opportunity for the law students to progress in their professional development while at the same time providing a service to the outside community. The clinics' primary purpose is to provide legal education to laypersons. The law students are the central component in furthering that goal: 1) In the Street Law High School Clinic, the law students teach a two-semester elective course in practical law to students in senior high schools throughout the District of Columbia; 2) In the Street Law Community Clinic (Summer only for academic years 2006-7, 2007-8), the law students teach a semester-long course in practical law to adult learners, mostly homeless parents in transitional shelter or emergency housing. In addition, the members of the clinics also participate in a variety of other community service programs.
The Street Law Clinic goals are:
- to provide law-related education to D.C.'s youth, and;
- to aid in the professional development of the law students in the clinic.
The Value of the Street Law Clinic to Law Students:
The law students benefit in a number of ways from their clinic experience.
For example, they:
- Gain a greater knowledge of substantive law and trial procedures by teaching about specific legal topics;
- Develop confidence and ability in oral presentation, both in formal presentations and thinking on their feet;
- Learn to explain the law in laypersons' terms by studying the legal system in the context of those persons directly affected by it, and by realistically examining broad concepts such as justice and fairness;
- Develop planning and preparation abilities and improve legal research skills; and
- Teach--a personally rewarding public service with immediate results.
The Street Law High School Clinic:
The D.C. Street Law High School Clinic links approximately twenty-four Georgetown law school students with the D.C. public high schools, where the law students, teach a year-long course in Street Law.
The course, designed to introduce the high school students to a legal system that touches their lives on a daily basis, concentrates on providing high schoolers with the skills to become problem-solvers through their knowledge of legal principles, primarily in the areas of criminal, tort, family, and constitutional law.
The D.C. Street Law High Schools Clinic seeks for high school students
- To experience the everyday implications of law in their lives
- To understand the values and forces that shape the law
- To discover mechanisms through which to shape a more just society
- To develop academic, critical thinking, civic and communication skills
The Clinic, with its focus on learner-centered education, creates a classroom environment that invites students to learn from each other through
- Exposure to complex legal concepts;
- Involvement in role-plays, mock trials, and small group discussions; and
- Reflection on the application of legal principles to their lives.
The course culminates with the Mock Trial Tournament at the D.C. Superior Court, where actual judges preside, and local attorneys score the teams' performances. The trial allows students to act as lawyers, witnesses, and litigants in a hypothetical case based on cutting-edge legal issues, such as the negligent infliction of the AIDS virus, educational malpractice, or domestic violence. The teams are judged based on their presentation of the case, their understanding of the legal theories, and their in-court performance. The finalists square off for a final mock trial at the Georgetown University Law Center to determine the city champion.
The value of the Clinic to high school students:
High school students take the year-long Street Law course as an elective. As they study the law, students develop basic academic skills such as reading, writing, listening, oral expression, problem-solving, and analytical thinking. Moreover, the objectives of the Street Law courses correlate well with the D.C. Public Schools' civics curriculum.
In the Street Law course, high school students learn:
- The basic structure of the legal system, including the relationship among legislatures, courts, and agencies, and how citizens relate to the lawmaking processes of each branch of government
- Fundamental constitutional rights
- Laws and processes involved in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, and those pertaining to consumer, family issues, housing, and individual rights
- The function and operation of trials and other legal proceedings.
In addition, students in Street Law courses acquire the skills citizens need to operate effectively within the legal system. They learn to:
- Understand and use basic legal terminology
- Read, comprehend, and complete legal forms such as contracts, leases, small claims court complaint forms, and credit applications
- Respond appropriately to police and law enforcement officers
- Choose courses of action to avoid potential legal problems, e.g., as consumers, learning to inspect before purchase
- Seek appropriate remedies for legal problems, e.g., writing effective letters of complaint.
Students also learn to examine underlying policies and values to assess what the law should be. For example:
The students are encouraged to draw on their own knowledge and experience to assess laws and their underlying policies, rationales and values. For instance, when students examine a specific problem, they are asked to think about it in their own terms and then from other points of view.
They determine and apply the appropriate law, determine available legal remedies, and discuss the often-competing policy concerns, societal interests and underlying values on which these policies are based.
As well as studying specific constitutional rights, students inquire as to whether such goals as fairness, due process, and justice are attained.
Students also study how our legal system balances competing values that come into conflict. For instance, students examine how the First Amendment "freedom of speech" may be balanced against society's interest in protecting itself from injurious, obscene or dangerous words.
The Street Law courses accomplish these objectives by using a variety of learner-centered methods, including role-plays, simulations, group discussions, lectures, case studies, multimedia activities, guest participants, field trips, and simulations of legal proceedings.
The centerpiece of the program is an annual citywide mock trial competition. High school students play the roles of lawyers and witnesses in a hypothetical case brought before actual judges at the Superior Court. In addition to learning communication and preparation skills, trial procedures, and teamwork, students practice the spectrum of cognitive skills as they comprehend a complicated fact pattern, apply the facts to the law, analyze and evaluate factual and legal issues, and synthesize the many components into a unified presentation.
Another outstanding feature of the Street Law course is the Mentor program, in which each Street Law class is paired with a law firm or legal organization.
The Mentor Firm or Organization typically is involved in Street Law in four ways:
- First, in cooperation with the law student instructor, representatives from the firm or organization visit the class to teach about certain aspects of the law in which the firm or organization is involved.
- Second, the firm or organization takes the students on a field trip to a law-related activity it is connected to, such as a visit to a Superior Court trial, a Congressional hearing, or to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Third, the firm or organization invites the students to a visit to the firm or organization itself, where the students learn about the operations of a law firm/agency, observe potential careers from legal secretary to lawyer, and perhaps examine the development of a case in some detail.
- Fourth, the Mentor Firm or Organization may help the class to prepare for the mock trial competition.
The Street Law Community Clinic:
The Street Law Community Clinic, modeled after the Street Law High Schools Clinic, is a course about law affecting one's daily life offered to adult learners. Law students teach a summer-long Street Law course one evening each week in a community setting.
Presently, the course is offered to homeless parents in transitional shelter or emergency housing whose children attend Bright Beginnings, a model preschool program for homeless children located in the Perry School Community Center, four blocks north of the Georgetown University Law Center. Adults from the community surrounding neighborhood and residents of a nearby public housing project are also welcome in this course.
The Street Law Community Clinic focuses on practical law affecting the participants' daily lives, including small claims court, landlord-tenant law, public benefits, domestic violence, dispute resolution, consumer protections, education, and other topics. The course utilizes interactive methods, which promote discourse and provide authentic, meaningful reading and writing opportunities. Through these methodologies, the participants develop critical thinking and communications skills.