More than 16 high schools are enrolled in MBA's Pilot Lawyer-Teacher Partnership

Issue May 2007

By Dennis Garrigan

More than 16 high schools are enrolled in the Massachusetts Bar Association’s pilot program, the Lawyer-Teacher Partnership, for the 2007-08 school year. The Lawyer-Teacher Partnership pairs attorneys with teachers of high school lawrelated courses to invigorate the classes and familiarize students with the civil justice system as well as exposing them to possible careers in the law. The partnership is an outgrowth of the MBA re-energized focus on law related education efforts, a goal of MBA President Mark D Mason.

To achieve the MBA’s outreach goals for the program, lawyer-teacher teams attended a day-long training last month at Bentley College in Waltham. The lawyer-teacher training was led by Lee Arbetman, the director of U.S. programs at Street Law Inc., an organization dedicated to promoting the knowledge of legal rights and responsibilities. Arbetman is also the coauthor of the leading textbook for high school law classes, Street Law: A Course in Practical Law.

“Lawyers and teachers in the classroom have to approach the subject differently than those in math and science,” said Arbetman. “Where the sciences have explicit solutions, any discussion of law in the classroom is dominated by dynamic outcomes and a lot of gray area. Therefore, the whole approach to legal education takes on a different look.”

Because students are dealing with civil discourse, Arbetman says the physical layout of most law classrooms may bear a closer resemblance to a courtroom. In addition to practical legal content and skill development, Arbetman said the program has a third and equally-important goal of positive community engagement.

The Lawyer-Teacher Partnership utilizes Street Law course material that goes beyond one-time lectures from law professionals. In addition to lectures from those with diverse roles in the legal system, the program includes supplemental case work for student role-playing and a test bank that promotes critical thinking.

“Students take advocacy roles in celebrated cases,” said Arbetman. “They may advocate for positions that they may not necessarily sanction, but that’s where students are able to elevate their critical thinking skills on behalf of their mock clients.”

Participants in the MBA’s Lawyer- Teacher Partnership training went through many of the same exercises they will use in the classroom in the fall. Mason, himself a participant in the Lawyer-Teacher Partnership, emphasized the importance of legal education in the community during the training session.

“Not only are we well-served by being actively involved in the Lawyer-Teacher Partnership, we help ourselves in maintaining a citizenry that is knowledgeable of the civil justice system,” he said.

Since the Street Law program was founded in 1972, the program has steadily demonstrated a reduction in crime in those neighborhoods where the program has been instituted. Among the Street Law’s accomplishments are:
• Empowering people to become active in civic affairs;
• Promoting a culture of human rights and democracy;
• Giving youth alternatives to violence;
• Providing leadership training to young people;
• Addressing the special needs of teen parents and youth in juvenile justice, foster care and homeless/runaway youth programs;
• Making teaching easier with cuttingedge participatory methodology;
• Drawing real-world connections between young people’s lives and the law; and
• Offering opportunities to understand conflict and transform problems into educational experiences.

The curriculum for the Lawyer-Teacher Partnership is divided into six blocks that resemble terms usually reserved for law school, including Introduction to Law and the Legal System, Criminal Law and Juvenile Justice, Torts, Consumer and Housing Law, Family Law, and Individual Rights and Liberties.

“It’s heartening to see students evolve with the program, especially as they advocate for cases involving constitutional law,” said Arbetman. “Their commitment to submitting thoughtful and thorough arguments in the cases covered makes the Lawyer-Teacher Partnership truly worth the time invested.”