High schoolers show their legal skills at UH Law Center 'Street Law' mock trial competition 

A student “lawyer” questions a witness before the “judge,” Monica Mensah, director of Student Advisement, during the Street Law mock trial competition at the University of Houston Law Center.

A student "lawyer" questions a witness before the "judge," Monica Mensah, director of Student Advisement, during the Street Law mock trial competition at the University of Houston Law Center.

March 26, 2018 — Area high school students squared off in "courtrooms" at the University of Houston Law Center Friday in a mock trial competition that showcased the legal skills and knowledge they learned as part of the Law Center's "Street Law" program.

Teams from eight schools were judged on how effectively they handled a hypothetical criminal case involving a student charged with assaulting an officer after a confrontation involving a Swiss Army knife.

In 90-minute sessions, "witnesses" were sworn in and questioned by student "lawyers," with one representing the defense and the other the prosecution.

Finalists in the championship round were teams from Chinquapin Preparatory School and High School for Law and Justice with Chinquapin declared the winner.

The winning team and its teachers and coaches from Chinquapin Preparatory School.

The winning team and its teachers and coaches from Chinquapin Preparatory School.

The Street Law program was established in 2016 by Professor Ellen Marrus, director of the Center for Children, Law & Policy at the Law Center. Over the years it has reached more than 550 local students in classes taught by Law Center students.   

"Street law helps teach young people about the law, the power of the legal system in a realistic way," Marrus said. "This means that students learn how the legal system can both lead to justice and at the same time cause results that are unjust. They also learn how they can use the law to make things better. 

"In the street law mock trial competition, in addition to learning public speaking skills and the law, they also learn the necessity of hard work, the need to focus on tasks, and how to deal with surprise situations."

The outreach program benefits high schoolers and Law Center students alike. It is designed to get high school students thinking about a college education and beyond, and the possibility of pursuing a career in the law. It also instills a sense of public service and a better understanding of the legislative process.

"It's something new. This is the first time we've had something like this at our school, and for us to be the first to experience it, it was great," said Aleaya Albrow, a student at KIPP Northeast College Preparatory. "I thought I had my career figured out, but this was fun and I would consider a career in law."

The team from HISD's High School for Law and Justice was a finalist in the championship round.

The team from HISD's High School for Law and Justice was a finalist in the championship round.

"If I can get through the reading, I would like to be an attorney," said Michael Caudillo, also of KIPP Northeast College Preparatory, with a laugh. "I learned that you really need to know your stuff and look at ways to expand on information. I enjoyed meeting new people and competing against other students."

Each law school student enrolled in the year-long course is assigned a high school class and is responsible for developing lessons, administering tests, and teaching advocacy skills in preparation for a mock trial. The experience improves their ability to convey legal knowledge and strengthens organization and time management skills that are not necessarily taught in law school.

"Explaining things to a 15- or 16-year-old student helps me practice to explain it to a jury," said second-year law student Kathryn Laflin who is reaching at the Young Women's College Preparatory Academy, "especially since I want to get into litigation. We teach criminal law, civil, family, a little bit of everything.

"We have ongoing conversations about individual rights and how they are affected by them," she said. The classroom discussions improve public speaking abilities and build confidence in the young students, she added, "prepping them for the next stage of their lives."

In addition to Chinquapin and the High School for Law and Justice, the competition included KIPP Northeast, Milby High School, and Young Women's College Preparatory Academy.

High school administrators interested in the program may contact Professor Ellen Marrus at emarrus@uh.edu.

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