March 16, 2016 -- University of Houston Law Center students are gaining teaching experience while working on their lawyering skills thanks to a new Street Law class started by Professor Ellen Marrus.
In addition to classes at the Law Center, the course is being taught at five Houston-area high schools: Alief Early College High School, the High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, Milby High School, and two KIPP Academy schools.
"It's very exciting," said Marrus, George Butler Research Professor of Law and director of the
Center for Children, Law & Policy. "The purpose of the class for the high school students is to encourage them to think about college and law school. But, studies have also found that when adolescents are exposed to the law, they're more likely to obey the law. They have a better understanding of the process that we go through in making laws, they buy into the concepts behind our legal system, and it becomes much more important to them to become law-abiding citizens."
Each Law Center student taking the course is assigned to a high school class and responsible for developing lessons and administering tests for a semester. They also are tasked with teaching high school students the skills to participate in a mock trial. In the first year of operation, the course is reaching almost 250 high school students.
Marrus said the Street Law class is also designed to improve law students' ability to convey legal knowledge, but also strengthens skills that are not necessarily taught in law school such as organization and time management.
"It is likely when you are communicating with a client that he or she is a layperson -- you're not usually representing lawyers," she said. "You have to be able to explain how that law is going to affect them, how the law applies to them, and what the law is in layperson terms. The Street Law class gives the law students a great experience in doing just that.
"It also gives them good experience in doing some legal research because the high school students come up with questions where the answers aren't in the book. And they definitely need to be able to think on their feet as the classes can often go in a different direction than the law student planned."