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Street Law: a wildfire success

13 July 15

Marking the first year of the Society’s successful schools initiative

by Rob Marrs

During the research phase of Fair Access to the Legal Profession we identified that the single biggest barrier to access to the profession was the LLB: disproportionately, pupils from the poorest backgrounds didn’t start an LLB. There are other issues, but ultimately, if you can’t reach the first rung on the ladder, you can’t get over the wall.

In addition, we had been looking at expanding what we did in terms of public legal education. There was overlap here – could we promote a wider understanding of law, rights, and the legal system while also helping some talented pupils consider law as a career?

Around this time we received an invitation to attend a Street Law weekend at the Law Society of Ireland. It was all rather serendipitous. Hearing from two trainers (one from Georgetown, one from Harvard) about the difference Street Law has made over the last 40 years in various US states, we realised this was the sort of thing we were looking for. It met all the criteria in engaging pupils in the law. It met some outcomes of Curriculum for Excellence. It had a track record of inspiring pupils from the poorest communities to consider law as an option.

To borrow a phrase, we “put a kilt on it” and pitched to Glasgow City Council, half thinking we would be rejected out of hand. Happily we were invited to Castlemilk High School; they liked what they heard and, along with four other schools, signed up.

Since then it has spread like wildfire. In our first year, we’ve trained more than 70 law students, who have taught 36 classes in 28 schools, delivering over 200 lessons to more than 600 pupils. Next year, we’ll be working with at least 37 schools in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and West Lothian.

It is important that we don’t just impress once, or confuse early success with sustained success; that we work with the same schools over numerous years; that we join up careers advice for pupils who want to go on to study law; and that we make sure those pupils know how, and where, to get work experience, and have access to the information they need from universities.

I’d finish by praising the Street Lawyers themselves. Those students – from every LLB provider across Scotland – have been incredible. Their creativity has brought law to life in classrooms across the country. Their innovation has seen the Society inundated with positive feedback for them and the programme. They have been fantastic ambassadors for the Society. They will make superb solicitors when the time comes.

Rob Marrs is senior policy and development manager at the Law Society of Scotland 

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