Street Law

Street Law is a one-semester, one credit-hour externship offered in partnership with the Durham public schools. Second and third-year law students are placed with a middle or high school social studies teacher, most often a tenth grade Civics and Economics teacher, and teach a series of classes on legal topics aligned with the teacher’s lesson plan and the North Carolina standard social studies curriculum. Typical lessons taught by law students cover such topics as criminal law and the criminal trial process; the North Carolina and Federal court systems; and Constitutional law and criminal procedure, especially the landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases that form the framework of our legal system.

Law students are provided a variety of materials and resources for use in teaching. In the first part of the semester they attend a weekly seminar in which they learn about teaching methods, plan teaching activities and practice delivering a lesson. They meet their cooperating teacher, observe class, and plan their teaching schedule.  They then teach a minimum of six classes in cooperation with the teacher.

Benefits of Street Law

Teaching law to high school students provides excellent practical training in skills law students will use as attorneys, particularly in the areas of communication and client relations. Many students find Street Law’s most valuable lesson is learning to break down complex concepts and communicate about the law in terms that tenth graders, or clients and juries, can understand. Teaching Street Law helps sharpen public speaking and presentation skills, as well as honing the ability to think on one’s feet in response to unexpected questions. Street Law students also deepen their own understanding of the subjects taught, an excellent way to refresh their knowledge in preparation for the bar exam.

Street Law students bring the real world of law into the high school classroom. They help make legal and civics concepts relevant and exciting to high school students, enabling them to understand the legal system and ultimately to participate more effectively in society. Studies show that Street Law-type courses have an impact on reducing juvenile delinquency. Street Law students also serve as role models and ambassadors for the legal profession, and expose the students they teach to information about legal careers.

North Carolina Central School of Law’s Street Law course is based on a national model that originated at Georgetown University Law Center in the 1970s. The high school text, Street Law: A Course in Practical Law, which is used in the course, is based on teaching materials developed for the Georgetown program. The authors founded a non-profit organization, Street Law, Inc., devoted to curriculum development and continuing professional education in the areas of law, democracy and human rights.

What Do Street Law Students Teach?

The subjects law students teach are chosen by the regular teachers to fit into their overall lesson plan and the North Carolina standard social studies curriculum. The most frequently requested topics are criminal law and the criminal trial process, the North Carolina and Federal court systems, and constitutional law and criminal procedure, especially the landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases that form the framework of our legal system. Street Law students sometimes conduct mock trials with their classes or may arrange field trips to the law school or the Durham County courthouse.

Where Do Street Law Students Teach?

Currently, Street Law students work with teachers at Hillside, Riverside, Southern and Northern High Schools; Durham School of the Arts; the Middle College High School at Durham Technical Community College; Shepard Middle School, which has a Law and Forensics magnet program; and the Lakeview Alternative School. Law students have the opportunity to express a preference as their teaching placement. Every effort is made both to accommodate law students’ teaching requests and to provide law students to every teacher who requests them.

Why Take Street Law?

Teaching law to high school students provides excellent practical training in skills law students will use as attorneys, particularly in the areas of communication and client relations. Many students find Street Law’s most important lesson for their future law practice is learning to break down complex concepts and communicate about the law in terms that 10th graders – or clients and juries – can understand.  Teaching Street Law helps sharpen public speaking and presentation skills, as well as honing the ability to think on one’s feet in response to unexpected questions. And as every teacher knows, teaching is the best way to deepen one’s own understanding of the subject taught and is an excellent way for law students to refresh their knowledge of basic law school subjects in preparation for the bar exam.

Street Law students also play a valuable role as ambassadors for the legal profession and role models for high school youth. They bring a fresh and real perspective to the high school classroom and can make legal and civics concepts relevant and exciting to middle and high school students, so that they become more engaged in learning. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice in the 1980’s showed that Street Law courses have an impact on reducing juvenile delinquency in urban areas.

What Law Students Say About Street Law

Street Law helped me improve my presentation skills and oratorical skills. I always had this fear of speaking in front of crowds, and I think the best way to test it is going in front of kids because they’ll be your true judges of how well you’re doing – like it  or not, they’ll let you know. It really helped me out.  - Jonathan Wilson, Class of 2009

I was able to understand why it is so important for lawyers to be able to translate complex legal theories into the everyday vernacular. …  It was a challenge to turn legal jargon into something that would make sense for the typical high school students. In the future I will be conscious that legal vocabulary can be complex, intimidating and difficult to understand if you are a layperson and I will be able to reach back to my days at Southern to find the right words to say. – Ternisha Miles, Class of 2008

Teaching forced me to look at the information that I have spent the last three years learning and attempt to put it into a workable language that a 10th grader could understand. I learned how to ask questions, I hope, without seeming patronizing or as if I was talking down to the students. Most importantly I got the students participating and asking questions. I could tell if they were getting it through their questions, and this occurs by encouraging a dialog. I must remember when talking to a client I must not just lecture, but listen, and encourage them to talk. – Jonathan Shaw, Class of 2008

The biggest surprise for us was the kids. The students were just amazing, how into learning they were. You know, you go in there thinking, Are these kids going to like me? Are they going to be interactive? And our group was just awesome; we couldn’t have asked for better students. … I would say the biggest skill Street Law helped me develop is to be able to explain what we’ve learned to someone who doesn’t understand the legalese, which is very important when you’re working with clients. – Autumn Osborne, Class of 2009 

Watch Interviews From Former Street Law Students

What Teachers Say About Street Law

[Street Law]  helps our high achieving students because it challenges them and gives them something to think about outside the boring basic Civics that a lot of them already know coming in.  … To our students who are struggling and have unfortunate relationships or contact with the court system, it helps them understand more about the rights and privileges that they have as a citizen… . So it touches all levels of our students in different ways.
- Mary Helen Earle, Civics and Economics teacher, Hillside High School

Civics and Economics is probably the most important course [students] take in high school because it’s something they need to have for the rest of their lives. …Street Law has helped my students, many of them who were disengaged from Civics,  become more engaged. Some of them now are thinking about the legal profession; a lot more feel a need to do well in high school so they can get to college; it’s given them information and made them feel empowered.
- Esme Scott, Civics and Economics teacher, Durham School of the Arts

Contact Information

Currently Street Law students work with teachers at five Durham high schools and one middle school.  If you are a teacher and are interested in having a Street Law student work with your class, please contact Page Potter.