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A Celebration of Street Law

April 23, 2012 — Forty years ago, Georgetown Law began an innovative new clinic that would change the lives of thousands of high school students in Washington, D.C., and around the world. That clinic was Street Law, which sends future lawyers into area schools each year to teach the law and the critical thinking, judgment and leadership skills that accompany it.

On April 21, some of Georgetown Street Law’s 1300 alumni returned to the Law Center for the clinic’s annual high school mock trial championship, followed by a dinner in honor of the anniversary.

“The Street Law clinic was a natural incubator for dreams of high purpose,” said Josh Kern (L’01), who built on his experience in Street Law to found the Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School more than a decade ago. “Nearly every day in my second year we sat with Rick [Professor Rick Roe, Street Law’s director of 25 years] and his fellow Lee McGoldrick (L’99), both of whom truly believe that the law is but a means, and justice is its end. TMA was born of the idealism that is captured by that motto, and more importantly, by Rick’s life’s work.”

Professor Jane Aiken, who will become associate dean of clinical education on July 1, noted that Street Law is now in all 50 states and many nations. Street Law Inc., which grew out of the Georgetown program, has developed projects ranging from teaching civics to high schoolers in Haiti to training educators in Europe and Asia in interactive teaching methods. “When I traveled around the world … and [people would] hear I was a legal educator, the first thing they would ask me is, do you know Rick Roe?”

This year’s mock trial competition, involving 250 students in 24 teams from 11 local high schools, culminated in a win by students from School Without Walls, who successfully argued a case before “Judge” Johnny Barnes (L’73, LL.M.’76). Barnes, the executive director of the D.C. ACLU, was one of the original four students in the Street Law program.

Roe noted at the dinner that Street Law gives students a human rights education, a voice and a better life. “Street Law has enormous potential, because it teaches us to think and express profound ideas that will take us into a new place, into a new century,” Roe said.

And high schoolers are already seeing the benefits. “Without education, where would you be in life?” said a Ballou student, who described his desire to become a police officer as a result of Street Law. “Every day, I walk to [school] and see people just hanging around doing nothing … now I can give back to my family, my community and the world.”

Attendees and speakers included Adjunct Professor Jason Newman, who started the program in 1972; Ed O’Brien (L’73), one of the first Street Law students who with Newman would take the program across the country with the National Street Law Institute; former Adjunct Professor Lee Arbetman, current executive director of Street Law Inc.; former fellow Charisma Howell (L’11); Kent Withycombe of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs; and fellows Sarah Medway (L’08, LL.M.’12) and Sean Arthurs (LL.M.’16).

-- Ann W. Parks

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