Interesting teens in law has a new tool, says Heather McKendrick
I recently had the rather unsettling experience of sitting in a headmaster’s office, awaiting his arrival. Happily, this was no flashback, or dream (nightmare); I was actually attending a meeting at a local high school to discuss how schools and the legal profession could work more closely together.
Walking through the school corridors again brought back (unfortunately now quite distant) memories of my own experience of being at school and deciding what I wanted to do in the future. While I was interested in studying law, with none of my family working in the legal profession it was hard to know what was actually involved.
We didn’t study law at school and, as opportunities for legal work experience for school pupils can be elusive, I am almost certain that my knowledge and expectations of what law would be like came from films, TV programmes and books.
I certainly had an expectation that all lawyers wore wigs and gowns, and strode confidently across busy courtrooms declaring the accused to be guilty (or innocent, depending on what I was watching). As I progressed with my law degree, I came to realise that law takes many forms, and many different career paths, with criminal law forming an important, but relatively small, part of the legal profession and the different career routes within it.
Having spoken to many law students and solicitors about this since then, it seems I am not alone in making such a significant decision with a limited understanding of what is involved. That’s one of the reasons we work increasingly closely with schools; to help ensure information about what it is actually like to study and practise law, is as accurate and realistic as possible. Along with the legal studies and careers events and participation in schools careers fairs we run, we have also recently launched a pilot project called Street Law.
Street Law is not a new idea, having been established since the 1970s, but it is new for Scotland and we are excited to be working with schools in Scotland to deliver this. Law students are paired up and become Street Law teachers, taking a class for a school term to teach them about law in an interactive way. This can include encouraging the pupils to develop critical thinking by asking them to assess evidence, or helping them to develop their skills in research and arguing by running a mock trial.
Street Law is designed to help raise young people’s awareness of their rights and responsibilities under the law, but also to aid their understanding of the law and legal profession generally.
We work with the teachers and pupils to understand what areas of law are most relevant to them, and we build a series of lessons around this. For example, many 15- and 16-year-olds are starting their first part-time jobs, so a lesson based on employment law and the rights of young workers tends to go down well. Similarly, with the increased popularity of social media and the rapidly changing law in this area, a lesson addressing some of the issues linked with social media has been proving both popular and useful to pupils.
We are excited to be bringing Street Law to Scotland in this way, and look forward to working with more schools and young people over the next few years. If some of the pupils are inspired by what they learn and are keen to study law at university, or start a career in the legal profession then that is great but that is not the purpose of Street Law.
It does, however, mean that those who do decide to pursue law after ten weeks of Street Law classes are likely to be very informed about the different areas of law, and also the skills involved in being a successful lawyer, which is a good thing. Our main aim is to ensure Street Law participants benefit from “real-life” lessons and insights, which they can use to effect positive change for the rest of their lives.
• Heather McKendrick is careers and outreach manager with the Law Society of Scotland. For more information about Street Law please visit www.lawscot.org.uk/streetlaw or email firstname.lastname@example.org