Teens Get Their Day In Court


For 16 high-school students, camp this week at Miami Law was a crash course in litigation and a challenging, rewarding entrée into the legal world.

The students came from Coral Gables High, Hialeah High, Miami Central, Miami Senior and Palmer Trinity for the three-day program, held every year during spring break since 2007 and organized by Miami STREET LAW, a legal outreach program that trains law students to teach law at schools in Miami-Dade County.

Lectures from Miami Law Professors Ricardo J. Bascuas and Terence J. Anderson were followed by litigation coaching by STREET lawyers Karen Chrisman, Daniel Goggin and Eric Olson. The camp's culmination was for the teens to "try" two cases in United States District Court – one before Judge Paul Huck and another before Judge Patrick White. In addition, Judges Robert Dubé and Peter Palermo met with the students and advised them about the judicial system and their career paths.

"As a 1L, I knew I wanted to get involved," Goggin said. "And I haven't regretted it since. I want to be a teacher, possibly even in STREET LAW."

On the camp's opening day, the students were asked to prepare to argue a case about a drunken-driving incident. Professors Anderson and Bascuas instructed them in trial procedure and rules of evidence. Following a discussion on career opportunities in the legal field, the second day was spent preparing for the next day's trial, with assistance from third-year students from the STREET LAW program.

"This legal outreach to high school students provides a unique way for teens to learn about legal careers, to experience the judicial system interactively in a positive way, and to meet excellent judges and law students," said Karen Throckmorton, a Lecturer in Law who directs the STREET LAW program. "Each year the students argue their cases in federal courtrooms before real judges and receive advice from the judges on the study of law and on setting goals in life. One successful Law Camp attendee from Miami Senior High now studies at the University of Miami and interns in Miami STREET LAW."

The mission of the program, Throckmorton said, is to empower young people through interactive education about law, democracy and human rights, while furthering the professional development of law students.

"I just got involved this year," said Alexis Rolle, a senior from Coral Gables Senior High who took part in the program. "STREET LAW is an elective at my school and I really like it. It pushes you out and that is good for me. I want to study public heath law but eventually want to go into entertainment law and contracts."

Students who participate in Miami STREET LAW obtain course credit while they experience a unique, professional development opportunity. Through teaching about the law and interacting with the community, law students are given a chance to analyze state and local laws and procedures. Additionally, as STREET LAW classes use interactive teaching strategies – including mock trials, moot courts and simulated negotiations – students can hone their communication and analytical skills while gaining exposure to other professionals and the community. Throckmorton said STREET LAW injects a human element into law school education, providing students with insight into public policy issues and concerns that impact their community.

Miami STREET LAW provides the South Florida community with essential legal information and helps high-school students navigate our law-saturated society, Throckmorton said. The program serves to put lawyers in a positive light while at the same time creating positive role models for the students who participate in the classes. An ancillary long-term goal of the program is to increase diversity in the legal profession.

"Students excelled in their arguments as well as in direct and cross examinations," Throckmorton said, referring to the law camp. "The zeal with which these teens approached the trials made all the hard work of creating and running the program worthwhile. All four Judges – Dubé, Huck, Palermo and White – were informative, patient, kind and instructive of the teen 'litigators.' Several teenagers stated that they loved the experience. A success!"