Students at Campus Middle School for Girls, a private school in Champaign County, immersed themselves in the law last spring. After a week of learning the law, these young women presented oral arguments at the Champaign County Courthouse before Judge Holly Clemons.
Working in teams, the students were assigned a client and given some information about that client. They then researched the law and prepared their arguments, with assistance from area attorneys and law students.
This program was part of a special week the School sets aside for students to study one subject in depth.
The materials were prepared by Ramona Sullivan, an attorney with Land of Lincoln Legal Services. Her daughter attended the school at the time of the program.
Ms. Sullivan reports that youth as young as 6th-8th graders can understand and argue cases involving family law, gender discrimination, contract law and criminal law.
In another experience, Ms. Sullivan worked with students at the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora where her son attended school. There, she guided the students in reading appellate opinions involving Domestic Violence cases. The students reviewed the sentences given for domestic violence and tried to understand the variations in the sentences by examining the conduct committed.
Through this weeklong exercise, students considered what is and is not a healthy relationship, the protections for victims and the consequences for abusers.
Ms. Sullivan reports that high schoolers are capable of reading primary source documents such as appellate cases and of asking very insightful questions.
Ms. Sullivan has taken vacation time to participate in these school activities. Many lawyers will find it more convenient to give an hour or two to Law Day (May 1) activities. On Law Day, she has joined other parents to share their life stories and careers. Sullivan believes that it is important for students to be informed about the legal system and to be informed about their legal rights and responsibilities. She suggests lawyers extend an offer to their children's teachers and teachers ask parents who are lawyers to come in.