The Georgetown University Law Center’s Street Law clinic held its 49th annual fall mock trial event for students attending Washington, D.C. public high schools Nov. 4, offering participants the opportunity to learn about the law and practice legal skills.
Under the program, students in the clinic teach a semesterlong course about basic legal principles to participating students from Washington D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). At the end of the semester, students participate in a mock trial case on a topic chosen by the course instructors.
The program allows students to learn about the legal process and develop self-esteem, according to Charisma Howell, director of the Street Law clinic.
“The real value is in the young people and seeing them accomplish something that they didn’t necessarily think that they could do,” Howell said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “It can be an incredible boost for one’s confidence. It’s a very complicated process, but they do amazing every year.”
Under the program, the law students create a lesson plan and hold classes, which last between 60 and 90 minutes and occur two or three times a week. The courses cover a wide range of subjects; however, they also help prepare students for the final mock trial competition, which takes place at the end of the semester.
Law students work to make the course materials as relevant and accessible as possible to the high school students, according to Howell.
“The law students need to bring the law to life and make it tangible,” Howell said. “It is about teaching the nuances of the law while infusing relevant examples that students are engaged and interested in.”
The classes employ a variety of teaching methods, as student instructors use different techniques to teach the high schoolers legal and public speaking skills, according to Elizabeth Choi (LAW ’22), a student coach.
“For each class, I try to incorporate several different teaching methods to accomodate the variety of ways in which students learn,” Choi wrote in an email to The Hoya. “There is usually always some type of reading, a worksheet, some writing, sometimes a video, sometimes a game, etc. One thing I almost always include is time for a classroom discussion/debate.”
At the end of the semester, the high schools participate in a mock trial to assess skills learned throughout the course. The topic of the trial changes every year, with this year’s presenting students with a case focused on human rights, according to Howell.
While preparing for the trial was stressful at times because of student absences during the COVID-19 pandemic, the experience was fulfilling for both students and teachers, according to Shelina Warren, a teacher at Dunbar High School, a DCPS school near the Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood that won the competition.
“In my opinion, preparing for the mock trial was stressful up until the day of because of the unpredictability of student attendance due to being in a pandemic,” Warren wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It was a delight to see my students perform, some that had been struggling in various ways this semester but that rose to the occasion.”
While Georgetown Law students helped prepare students for the trial, the participants largely competed by themselves, according to Choi.
“I helped prep my students on our way to the mock trial and while we were waiting for the trial to start,” Choi wrote. “During the trial, I answered some of my students’ questions but for the most part only observed them.”
The mock trial consists of three rounds of 15 teams, and judges tally points based on various criteria, including speech and feasibility of the legal approach presented, to determine which two teams will compete in the final round, according to Howell.
Competing in the tournament and winning the trial was very exciting, according to Rakiah Willis, a junior at Dunbar high school.
“Preparing for the mock trial was definitely a great experience,” Willis wrote in a message to The Hoya. “It felt very great to win the trial. I felt a burst of excitement knowing all of our hard work paid off.”
Despite being nervous for the competition, Dunbar competitors were ready to win, according to Dunbar high school junior Jaquan Waller.
“I was nervous at first but once we went through the doors I was excited and ready to win,” Waller wrote in a message to The Hoya. “When I got there I kept telling myself that, ‘we are going to win,’ so when we finally won I was relieved and I was like, ‘I knew it was going to happen,’ but I was very happy to win.”