Over 500 students in 15 schools participate in this year’s Street Law programme. Forty-two trainee solicitors were commended for their volunteer contribution at the Street Law conferral at the Law Society of Ireland recently. The Law Society has been running Street Law since 2013. In this time, over 3,500 students have completed the programme. Originally developed in Georgetown University in the United States, Street Law is an initiative which places trainee solicitors studying at the Law Society in local schools to teach law in a practical way.
This year, 42 trainee solicitors visited 15 partnering DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) schools to deliver the Street Law programme to over 500 students. As part of the programme, trainee solicitors attend an orientation weekend in September which prepares them to teach in the schools. The trainee solicitors learn how to deliver the programme over six lessons and cover topics such as the court systems, family law, discrimination law and sexual offences. In return, Street Law allows the students to see how the law affects their daily lives and helps promote lifelong civic engagement.
Volunteer Darragh Bollard, from Rush, Co Dublin is a trainee solicitor with Philip Lee. “Street Law brings law to people who might not have had any experience of law in the past. It aims to provide a positive appreciation of law, how it operates and shows how it benefits society in an active, interactive and inclusive forum,” he said. “We developed general class outlines but the classes take the form of discussions where the students could raise different points. The students were very knowledgeable and not afraid to challenge societal concepts or the opinions of their peers.”
Street Law inspires trainee solicitors to break down barriers to the profession and create pathways to law, with some volunteers even organising internships at their firms for the students in their class. “Street Law provides an insight of the daily practice of law to students who may be considering a career in law,” explained Mr Bollard. “I was with a group of sixth year students who are considering studying law after their Leaving Cert,” he said. “We ran a class called ‘How to be a lawyer’ where we discussed some of the misconceptions of entering the legal professions. We also provided information on the paths to actually entering the legal professions.” “Most of the students had one thing in common; they didn’t know any lawyers or have contacts who worked in the profession. I thought it would be great if some of the students could gain experience working in a law firm,” he said. “I approached my training firm, Philip Lee, with a proposal to arrange an internship for students who are in the very early stages of their career. Philip Lee decided to run a programme entitled ‘First Steps to Law’ which offers two students an opportunity to work in the office this August. The purpose is to give some real life experience of what working in a law firm would be like.”
In the last five years, the Law Society has also expanded the Street Law programme to a number of prisons, including Wheatfield Prison, Mountjoy Prison, Arbour Hill and Oberstown. “The Prison Law sessions are interactive and deal with real life issues in a discussion forum,” said Mr Bollard. “In Prison Law, the participants already have real life experience with the law. We discussed constitutional rights, what they mean and how they can be defended, personal injuries, employment discrimination and wrongful convictions.”