Street law is now a widespread and global initiative, but it started—right here—in the U.S. The movement began at Georgetown University, 50 years ago, with a small group of passionate law students that believed in educating public school students in Washington, D.C. about the law. Beginning in 1972, the Georgetown students created and taught classes at Woodrow Wilson
and Eastern High Schools to educate children about the law and the career possibilities open to them. The young students that were part of the program dubbed it “street law” and the name stuck. The current street law movement intends to teach both children and adults about the law and our government, in an informal, welcoming, and individualized way. (https://streetlaw.org/who-we-are/about/history/).
Motivated lawyers have been a vital part of the start and success of this movement. Lawyers like Luz Herrera, a UCLA Law Professor and social justice attorney, have uniquely added to the program through community lawyering. Herrera grew up in Los Angeles and attended Harvard Law. When she graduated, she ran a solo practice in Compton as the only full-time Spanish- speaking lawyer for a community of over 50,000 Latino residents. Her website (link to communitylawyers.org) offers plain language videos for the community—both in English and Spanish—that allow residents to understand the law and feel confident that they can speak out if they feel the law is not serving them. Street law does not only happen in schools with children in a formal classroom setting, but also in the community with adults who are provided access to appropriate and non-intimidating legal resources.
As Herrera exemplifies, a large part of the movement is fostering a student-centered approach to learning, meaning the traditional hierarchy and formality of the law have little place in a street law classroom or within street law resources. Street law prioritizes plain language and clear communication—to allow everyone—the ability to understand the laws. The movement aims to discuss realities that students may not understand legally, but that they are experiencing such as family violence laws and consent. If students understand the laws behind these realities, such as the elements of consent, they may be able to apply them to their lives. In addition, street law programs allow students to be exposed to the legal system—through mock trials and meetings with lawyers—which opens their minds to more career possibilities. In fact, Patrick Campbell, an attorney and member of the Board of Directors at Street Law Inc., was inspired to become a lawyer because he participated in his street law program at his high school. (link to interview video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoJJfZxjOMw). * IF THIS VIDEO CANNOT BE LINKED HERE, IT SHOULD BE INCLUDED UNDER VIDEO SECTION BECAUSE IT IS A GREAT INTERVIEW.
Law schools and community organizations across the U.S.—as well as in Belize, Russia, India, Ireland, South Africa, and more—have adopted the model in the fifty years since its inception at Georgetown. It has truly become a global initiative. The reason why the model is so adaptive is because of its student-centered approach. Street law can give residents a voice, no matter where in the world it takes place because it is individualized and specific to the laws of the location.