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Street Law is an innovative subject that involves JD students visiting diverse secondary schools in Melbourne for the purpose of delivering three lessons on legal topics of interest and relevance to young people. Street Law provides a unique opportunity for students to develop their technical and communication skills, while at the same time making a tangible contribution to the community through the delivery of legal lessons to an audience that may not usually have strong avenues of access to legal education or the legal profession.
Students undertaking Street Law will develop and implement fundamental communication skills, including the ability to explain complex legal concepts and information to a non–legal audience. The program will build skills in legal analysis, statutory interpretation and enhance confidence in public speaking. Students will also develop interpersonal skills, the ability to work autonomously and as a member of a group committed to high quality legal education and the ability to think on one’s feet. These skills are essential for working in any legal profession. Street Law students gain experience in implementing community legal education and be a part of the worldwide phenomenon of Street Law. Community legal education is an increasingly important aspect of the work of lawyers in many parts of the profession, particularly the community legal sector.
Participation in Street Law allows students to develop a thorough understanding of the key legal topics law they will teach to secondary school students, based on materials supplied by Melbourne Law School. Specific topics to be covered will change from year to year, and may include broad topics (such as rights frameworks) and/or topics of specific practical relevance to high school students (such as rights and responsibilities on public transport). Students will liaise with teachers at their assigned school to identify the best method of creating lesson plans for particular curriculum needs and context of an individual school. Students then visit their schools to deliver the legal content in a clear and accessible manner in presentations to high school students of diverse academic abilities and backgrounds. Students enrolled in this subject will receive instruction in relevant substantive areas from law school faculty, as well as specialist training in lesson planning and delivery from faculty at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education. Students will also have the opportunity to develop new materials which may either be used by individual schools and/or by Street Law at MLS in future years.
Longstanding experience of Street Law programs in the US (where it originated thirty years ago) and in other countries indicates that participation in a street law program develops a range of skills in law students including knowledge of and ability to use the law, interpersonal skills, autonomous learning, preparation and organisational skills, critical self-reflection and the ability to think on one’s feet (1). Other research has found that lawyers who participated in a street law program reported that the experience had helped them to explain the law clearly and practically in their professional lives which had in turn increased their confidence and enhanced their public speaking skills (2).
The subject also provides students enrolled with the opportunity to contribute to the intellectual and social development of students from high schools in diverse areas and with diverse student cohorts. While one of the goals of a street law program is to impart substantive knowledge of relevant aspects of the law, it is also to promote in high school students skills in ‘critical thinking and analysis of complex topics through the study of law and justice’ (3). Another goal is to inspire students from non-traditional backgrounds to aspire to university study and possibly also the study of law.
(1) Pinder, K, ‘Street Law: Twenty Five Years and Counting’ (1998) 27 Journal of Law and Education 211 at 226, 230-31.
(2) Katz, B, ‘Practical Law 101’ (2001-2002) 30 Student Lawyer 24 at 26.
(3) Pinder, above n 1, at 212.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed Street Law will:
- have specialised knowledge of at least three substantive areas of law relevant to young people;
- understand and have the ability to critically assess theories of teaching and lesson delivery;
- have a nuanced understanding of some of the challenges faced by young people in the Australian legal system;
- have an advanced and practical understanding of the challenges involved in effectively communicating complex legal concepts and ideas to a non-specialist audience;
- have an understanding of appropriate methods for identifying and developing written materials suitable for use to communicate to non-lawyers;
- have a sophisticated understanding of the importance of legal literacy; and
- have an understanding of community legal resources relevant to young people.
Students who successfully complete the Street Law program will have developed and demonstrated:
- sophisticated skills in oral communication, and an advanced ability to observe, evaluate, interpret and transmit an analysis of a discrete legal issue to a non-law audience;
- an ability to identify the requirements of a specific audience and tailor a presentation so as to deliver an effective and accessible lesson in a specific area of law;
- an advanced capacity for critical and independent thought and reflection, in particular to reflect critically on the relevance of specialised areas of law for young people in Victoria;
- advancement of the discipline of legal teaching theory and practice by integrating theoretical knowledge with practical experience in lesson delivery; and
- the ability to learn from encountering different perspectives, and to recognise the extent to which students’ own beliefs, values and experiences inform their understanding of the purpose and relevance of public legal education and legal literacy.
Last updated: 6 December 2019