57 RI Bar J., No. 5, Pg. 11. Helping Students Understand the Legal System.

AuthorRobert Ellis Smith, Esq.Publisher of the Providence-based, Privacy Journal newsletter

Rhode Island Bar Journal

Volume 57.

57 RI Bar J., No. 5, Pg. 11.

Helping Students Understand the Legal System

Rhode Island Bar Journal57 RI Bar J., No. 5, Pg. 11March/April 2009 Helping Students Understand the Legal SystemRobert Ellis Smith, Esq.Publisher of the Providence-based, Privacy Journal newsletter Attorneys and staff in the federal courthouse and the Licht Judicial Complex in July and August often encounter a group of ardent high school students traveling from courtroom to courtroom. They are members of a class I have taught for the past six years in a Brown University summer program, How the Legal System Works - Anatomy of a Case.

The intensive, three-week course fulfills an idea I long had to teach a course tracking a single case from beginning to end. Taking such a course was an opportunity I never had as a law student at Georgetown University Law Center, and I could not find it at any other law school. Yet, as an advancing law student, I felt a strong need to understand how a case progresses from an occurrence, to intake in the lawyer's office, through discovery, negotiations, trial, post-trial procedures, and appeals. I wanted to know exactly how a lawyer uses the tools he or she gains at law school and how the elements of torts, contracts, procedure, criminal law, equity and all the other things we learn fit together. Perhaps the idea is regarded as too vocational for graduate instruction in law school.

When Brown University offered the opportunity to teach such a course to high school students who come to Providence in the summer, I took it. I adapted my proposed curriculum slightly to teach the anatomy of a case before law school, even before undergraduate college.(fn1)

The class, meeting three hours in the morning each day for three weeks, starts by studying a fact situation. I chose a case I was involved in as a consultant, in the context of my day job, publishing a newsletter on the right to privacy and acting as an expert witness and legal consultant in privacy-oriented cases. When I first started the class, the case was fresh in the minds of many. In 1999, as she left her work in Nashua, N.H., a 20-year-old woman was shot and killed by a former high-school classmate (whom she did not know), who had stalked her for several months.

It was heartbreaking and tragic for Amy Boyer's mother and stepfather...

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