UHLC's Street Law class gives high school students chance to showcase trial skills

More than 200 high school students recently visited the University of Houston Law Center for Professor Ellen Marrus’ new Street Law class.

Professor Ellen Marrus (center, red) welcomes high school students from her inaugural Street Law class to the University of Houston Law Center.

April 21, 2016 -More than 200 students from Houston-area high schools drew upon their newfound legal skills and knowledge last week in mock trials and model law school classes to conclude University of Houston Law Center Professor Ellen Marrus' new Street Law course.

The students were from Alief Early College High School, the High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, Milby High School, and two KIPP Academy schools. Each Law Center student taking Marrus' course was assigned to a high school class and was responsible for developing lessons and administering tests for a semester. They also were tasked with teaching high school students the skills to participate in a mock trial.

Marrus said she hopes this is the first of many mock trial competitions for the Street Law class.

"It has been amazing to watch how much the high school students have grown over the past couple of months," Marrus said. "They can stand up in front of complete strangers and do an opening or closing statement, a cross or direct examination, or be a witness that has a clear understanding of the entire process. They could not have done this at the beginning of the year. The law students have certainly made an impact on the high school students and their exposure to the law has many of them thinking about law school, when they did not before."

Juries comprised of Law Center students returned verdicts of guilty, not-guilty, and a hung jury.

"It was all remarkable," Marrus said. "The high school students performed beyond our expectations and theirs. It was fun to watch them when the verdict went against them and they wanted to know why from the jury pool -- just like real lawyers.

"The law students put in so much time to get their students ready. Although they only teach twice a week, many went on other days to help the students prepare. For many of them, they had to learn trial skills in order to teach it to their students as they had never taken a trial advocacy class or a clinic. I am so proud of all of them."

Following each trial, the best prosecutors and witnesses, along with the best defense attorneys and witnesses, were awarded.

"I hope the high school students understood that the verdicts were not a reflection of their performance," Marrus said. "The greatest trial lawyers don't win every case. The facts just are not always with you. I believe that the students performed well across the board. There was only to be one best attorney on each side and one best witness on each side for each trial. The judges often wanted to give more than one attorney an award. That shows how well they did."

The students also sat in on mock classes from Law Center professors Zachary Bray, Douglas Moll, Merle Morris, Susan Rachlin, Lauren Simpson, and Ronald Turner.

"It was a real pleasure to teach a mock Lawyering Skills and Strategies class to the high school students in UHLC's inaugural Street Law program," Simpson said. "The students were engaged and interested in the short issue-spotting exercise that we did. Their ideas were creative and insightful, and they shared them freely. I was very impressed."

"The students were very interested in the material and were active participants in the class," Moll added. "When that happens, the teaching and the learning is both easier and more enjoyable."

High school students attend a mock class taught by Law Center Clinical Assistant Professor Lauren Simpson.

High school students attend a mock class taught by Law Center Clinical Assistant Professor Lauren Simpson.

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