Worcester County attorney and teacher team up to help students learn the law through new partnership program

Issue May 2007


The Lawyer-Partnership team of Milford attorney Laura Mann and Uxbridge High School teacher Robert Hutchings was looking for something more when they learned about the Massachusetts Bar Association’s new pilot program. A 10-year veteran of high school Mock Trial teams as an attorney-coach, Mann decided to enroll in the Lawyer-Teacher Partnership after learning about it in Lawyers Journal.

“What’s nice about the Lawyer-Teacher Partnership is that it is long-range,” said Mann. “Where our work on Mock Trial is usually compressed into a couple of months, this program allows you to commit to furthering legal education in the schools and to act as an ongoing resource.”

Meanwhile, Hutchings, who has taught law classes at Uxbridge High School for more than eight years, always utilizes law enforcement officers in classes but was never able to be matched with an attorney in his classes. The Lawyer-Teacher Partnership marks the first time that an attorney will be used as a resource for the class.

“It is an elective in our school,” said Hutchings. “We have students that are interested in the law, but for vastly different reasons. Some are interested in a career in the law, and others simply want to find out more about the legal system.”

As an attorney, Mann says she is impressed how students mature in their knowledge of the law. “They are always surprised to know their rights,” said Mann. “And that’s a major step forward, since the law surrounds our daily lives. Students need to have access to that information.”

An important element of the Lawyer-Teacher Partnership is the analysis of constitutional case law. The Lawyer-Teacher Partnership team from Uxbridge High School believes that the role-playing that takes place in case law is where critical thinking skills advance.

“What is really unique about the course is how the law can be interpreted differently,” said Hutchings. “It’s a hard concept for some students to grasp, that the same law can be interpreted based on differing community standards.”

Mann believes case studies permit students to learn from each other.

“What I love about the law are the gray areas,” she said.

“I love taking a problem and seeing it from both sides and the potential for learning the law. I think students can learn
a lot from asking each other questions about legal issues.”

Hutchings has seen the law class at Uxbridge grow from 18 students to about 75 students, mostly juniors and seniors. He says the direct result he’s witnessed is that students think more before reacting to a particular situation.

“To try to defend both sides of an issue is very different for students,” said Hutchings. “In a mock trial scenario,some students find it uneasy to defend a position they oppose. The opportunity for learning the law comes about when they are able to present an argument for a different point of view.”

Mann agrees that the role reversal provides a tipping point for students.

“I’m always surprised that students tend to form definite political opinions without necessarily thinking them through,” she said. “This program will help students to rationalize and to question their own positions. This is the premise behind dispute resolution — that attempting to understand from a different point of view will prevent issues from escalating.”

The Uxbridge law teacher has his sights on next year’s MBA Mock Trial competition.

“We did a quick Mock Trial some years ago, and we’ve done a Mock Trial at the school,” said Hutchings. “The
Lawyer-Partnership will enable us to compete for the MBA’s Mock Trial competition.”

“I think it’s great that the Mass. Bar is taking the lead in this because it’s something that’s been desperately needed,”
said Mann. “There has been a huge void, particularly in the high schools. There are a lot of kids out there that need to
have a greater sense of what the legal system is all about, and how it can solve problems.”