Is Streetlaw something you might be interested in pursuing? Thought about it but not really sure what you’d be getting yourself into? As part of Lawyer Monthly’s Law School & Careers features, Francine Ryan, Lecturer in Law and member of the Open Justice team at The Open University Law School, discusses the intricacies of Streetlaw below, offering valuable insight into the life benefits of delving into this particular legal segment.
Streetlaw began in the US in the 1970’s, it involved law students going into local high schools and teaching young people about legal issues using practical and interactive teaching methods. Streetlaw programmes have evolved and are now firmly established in law schools across the globe being delivered in both primary and secondary schools. The aim is to improve legal literacy by promoting the understanding of law. It is hoped that by knowing their legal rights, young people will have greater confidence in handling legal issues. A range of topics relevant to young people are addressed from knowing your stop and search rights, to how to protect your online privacy and understanding human rights. The delivery is key, law students don’t lecture on a legal issue they use engaging and interactive teaching methods which are highly participatory. Most UK law schools run a Streetlaw programme so there are lots of opportunities to get involved.
You might be thinking, I want to be a lawyer so why get involved in Streetlaw? Would I not be better focusing my efforts on securing a place in a law clinic? That is a good question to ask, but what you might be surprised to learn are the transferable skills developed through Streetlaw. Students work in teams to research and deliver an interactive presentation to a group of school children. Working in a school is a challenging environment, you need to be able to think on your feet and respond appropriately to unfamiliar situations. You have to engage children who might not want to be there, who may be reluctant to participate and encourage them to get contribute.
Volunteering to deliver Streetlaw will provide you with a range of experiences to draw on in an interview, it will give you the opportunity to talk about a situation where you have learned how to work effectively as part of a team. Developing research, communication and presentation skills are an essential requirement for legal practice and contribute to your professional development. Becoming a confident public speaker is critical in a highly competitive legal market. It is not just volunteering in a law clinic that can prepare you for a career in law.
Streetlaw programmes are extending beyond the school gates, many Universities now offer the opportunity for students to deliver Streetlaw in prisons and in their community. The Open University Law School is involved in a number of prison projects where students are developing presentations and information on legal issues in collaboration with prisoners. Streetlaw in prisons is an important mechanism to provide legal information to an increasing prison population; disclosing convictions and securing employment after release from prison are important topics that support the rehabilitation of offenders. Many University law schools have Streetlaw programmes that engage with a wide range of community groups including charities, travelers, or older people so there are lots of opportunities for law students to get involved in supporting diverse groups of people.
Streetlaw is a fantastic way of developing your legal knowledge and applying what you have learned in your studies. It equips you with a range of skills that are invaluable for a legal career. It gives you an opportunity to practise your public speaking skills and gain confidence. But also, volunteering is an important part of being a lawyer; Streetlaw is another dimension of pro bono which gives law students the ability to work collaboratively in their local community in an innovative and fun way! Hopefully, learning a little more about Streetlaw will encourage more law students and lawyers to go back to school and get involved! Have a look at the Streetlaw programme at your University or visit studentprobono.net for a list of activities in your area.
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