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D.C. Street Law Clinic Celebrates 40th Anniversary

April 2, 2012 —

It began with four Law Center students who taught courses in two D.C. high schools. Now, 40 years later, it has evolved into a nationally recognized program that has inspired new charter schools and produced leaders in education reform.

"It is a pleasure to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the D.C. Street Law Clinic," said Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor. "The Law Center students who participate in this program continue to provide an invaluable public service to the local D.C. community and to the nation by educating our youth about the law and preparing them to become more engaged and well-informed citizens."

Founded at Georgetown Law in 1972 by Adjunct Professor Jason Newman, the D.C. Street Law Clinic is one of 14 courses offered as part of Georgetown Law’s clinical legal education program. It has been led by for the last 25 years by Professor Rick Roe.

"Street Law not only allows law students to better understand the law as it applies in their community, but it develops their lawyering skills," said Roe. "As they teach, they are constantly required to think on their feet and develop their presentation and analysis skills."

Street Law is a two-semester elective course taught by second- and third-year Law Center students to students in D.C. public senior high schools and D.C. public charter high schools. It offers high schoolers an introduction to the legal system by teaching them about constitutional law, criminal law and torts, and focusing on issues that affect everyday lives, such as housing, family law, individual rights, consumer protection and employment.

The course uses a variety of participatory methods, including role-plays, simulations, mock trials, case studies and group discussions, to draw information from students about their values and knowledge. Through these exercises, it concentrates on helping them to develop their skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, and oral and written communication, and encourages them to become active participants in civic discourse.

Each year, the program culminates in an annual citywide mock trial competition, pitting teams of students from D.C. high schools against each other as lawyers and witnesses in a complex hypothetical mock trial. Coached by lawyers and their law student instructors, the students prepare for the trial over a six-week period. D.C. Superior Court judges, local attorneys and law students serve as tournament judges. 

Over the last 40 years, approximately 1,300 Georgetown Law students have taught nearly 10,000 area youth participants in the Street Law Clinic. Street Law materials are now used in school districts in all 50 U.S. states, and more than 60 law schools nationwide operate Street Law programs.

Inspired by their experience as Street Law instructors, some Georgetown Law students have started charter schools across the country and have been recognized as important leaders in education reform. The idea for one of these charter schools was conceived by a Law Center student more than 10 years ago.

Disheartened by the conditions at the school where he was assigned, Joshua Kern (L’01) established a student-initiated seminar led by Roe to shape plans for opening a D.C. charter school. The group submitted a proposal to the D.C. charter school board in 2000, and two months later the charter was approved. In 2001, the Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School opened its doors. Today, its students have the highest gains in standardized test scores from junior to senior high school among all high schools in Washington, D.C., and 100 percent of the students in all seven graduating classes were accepted to college.

Michael Serota, a former Street Law teacher, talked about his Street Law experience in the Huffington Post earlier this year. Serota’s piece is available here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-serota/law-and-civic-education_b_1284643.html

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