Bringing the courtroom to the classroom
Do you remember your first encounter with the law?
Engaging with the law and increasing knowledge of the legal system allows young people to develop skills that let them participate as active citizens in society.
Yet all too often, these opportunities are not provided in formal education settings, due to a lack of resources, training, understanding, or different prioritisation in the curriculum.
From my experiences as a secondary school teacher, it was not that young people were not interested in the law – in fact, at every opportunity, I would face a myriad of questions and inquiries as to what was right or wrong, fair or unfair, in the world around them.
Often, the news, pop culture and their own experiences in the community brought the limitations of the law into sharp focus.
During lesson time, opportunities to explore these issues were limited. There was a constant pressure to stay ‘on course’ in lessons, prioritising getting through examinable content.
Any time left to engage in legal education was very short. Often, this type of learning had to take place outside the classroom in extracurricular and enrichment opportunities, which by their nature excluded a large population of students.
Despite being statutory as part of citizenship teaching, spiritual, moral, social and cultural learning, and personal, social, health and economic education, teaching about the law doesn’t always happen.
In a poll of A-level students carried out by Young Citizens this year, 87% had never received any formal lessons on law during the earlier years of education.
Overwhelmingly, the UK does not have a grasp of its rights and responsibilities in law.
Only 25% of people claim to know their legal position completely when they experience a legal problem, and nearly two-thirds of the UK are “unaware of basic legal rights or the processes by which they are enforced”.
This can have serious and severe consequences on individuals who have to navigate legal issues and can erode faith and belief in the legal system as a whole.
In this context, effective legal education in schools can have equal and tangible benefit for both the legal sector and young people, because it creates empowered citizens who understand and value the rule of law.
Rick Rhodes, law lecturer and assistant head at Sirius Academy in Hull, is a passionate advocate for legal education in schools.
He says it “builds functioning, informed, and engaged citizens. Every lesson affords students the opportunity to develop their understanding of their social space and the wider world.”
This is echoed by public legal education charity Law For Life: its study into Legal Needs, Legal Capability and the Role of Public Legal Education stresses that key learnings must happen early on, and act as an intervention to prevent problems from occurring later.
In turn, legal education projects in schools can help to open the law to young people and attract more diverse talent to the profession.
Creating spaces where young people and legal professionals interact is a great way to open doors and demystify the profession.
Young Citizens is proud to have been working with teachers to run legal education programmes since its inception in 1989, including Mock Trials, which consistently inspire new generations of talented legal professionals.
If we meet teachers where they are, the results can be huge. Earlier this year, over 1,000 teachers from our UK-wide network stated their interest in delivering a session about the law as part of our campaign, the Big Legal Lesson.
The sessions for both primary and secondary schools were a huge success, with 96% of teachers agreeing that they allowed students to better understand the rule of law and how it applies to their lives.
The impact of engaging in an immersive legal education programme was summed up by one student as “[the] things I have learned have made an evident difference in communication and perspective on the world. At the end of the day, we make the justice system what it is."
So most importantly, in whatever way you choose to get involved, take the first step and always remember the ‘why’.
So what can you do?
Get involved through your firm
Speak to your corporate social responsibility team and take part in any schools outreach work your firm may be doing already.
Get involved as an individual
See if you can volunteer with an organisation outside your work who offer you training and a chance to engage with young people.
Dr Rhodes gives his call to arms saying, “firms need to work with charities such as Young Citizens to raise the general standard of legal education, providing open-the-box-and-deliver materials that can ensure every student receives a basic foundational standard of legal education.”
Get your firm and colleagues involved
Talk to colleagues about programmes that you are volunteering for, raise awareness.
Use this handy guide that the Law Society have created to help develop a legal education programme that fits your firm.
Young Citizens offers Legal Experts in Schools, a programme that pairs law firms with schools to run inspiring workshops on the law, both in offices and classrooms, as part of its corporate social responsibility strategy.
Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.