Trainee solicitors have begun teaching secondary school students about issues such as cyber bullying, privacy, and human rights.
The Law Society of Ireland’s diploma centre runs a programme called Street Law for trainee solicitors, who then pass on this knowledge in the school classroom.
The idea of teaching practical law to grassroots audiences originated at Georgetown University Law Center, in Washington, DC, in 1972.
“Street law is our legal literacy programme, where trainee solicitors go out to the community, to schools and prison.
“Our trainees get to see that they can do some good and it brings an increased awareness about the law, and people’s rights, to students and prisoners,” said Freda Grealy, head of the Law Society’s diploma centre.
“It’s done through small groups using lesson plans that involve games, video, and mock trials.
“It’s about bringing the law to the level of student, to where they’re at and discussing issues that they’re dealing with, issues like consent, cyber-bullying, employment law and human rights,” said Ms Grealy.
“We’re not prescriptive with our trainee solicitors. They don’t have a rigid syllabus,” she added.
One trainee solicitor, who has brought the Street Law programme to a Dublin secondary school and to inmates at Wheatfield prison, is Ruth Walsh, of KOD Lyons.
“We went with a lesson plan that we developed in our training programme, so the first week we covered human rights and then we moved on to the criminal justice system,” said Ms Walsh.
“We did a lesson around the Serial podcast (which investigated a murder conviction in America in 2000) and also around the issues of assault and consent in sport.
“Some colleagues in other schools created lesson plans around privacy and the sharing of images [online] and students were really interested to learn about the legal issues around it.
“It struck a note with them,” she added.
Twelve schools in the Dublin area received the Street Law programme last year.
The trainee solicitor said she was “blown away” by the “massive” level of engagement from students.
A huge positive for Ms Walsh was when she realised that secondary school students felt that they could now consider a career in law, having spent time with the trainee solicitors.
“For school students, it took away the notion that you need super-high points to study law and that, instead, there were a number of different routes in,” she said.
NUI Galway has now established its own Street Law programme and Letterkenny IT is following suit.
Ms Grealy said the Law Society of Ireland will be running another training programme this September.
“If there are any other law schools nationwide that are interested in joining our orientation programme in September, we’d be happy to hear from you,” she said.
Once a trainee solicitor has taken part in the programme, they go out to the community and deliver six or more sessions via interactive learning.
At the end of the six-week period, students will often make a trip to the criminal courts or to the Law Society of Ireland.
In Ireland, the programme has been running for four years and, in 2015, 600 secondary school students took part.
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