Category: Georgetown Magazine, Spring 2024

Title:Street Law at 50

Author: Sara Piccini
Date Published: April 8, 2024
six people stand in front of a Georgetown Law sign to celebrate the Street Law program anniversary
Street Law founders and leaders reunited at the 2023 anniversary celebration: (left to right) David Wilmot (L’73), Jason Newman, Johnny Barnes (L’73, L’76), Charisma Howell (L’11), Adjunct Professor Richard Roe, and May O’Brien, wife of the late Ed O’Brien (L’73). Photo: Michelle Frankfurter/Georgetown Law

Street Law, launched at the Law Center in 1972, was founded on a simple premise: bringing law students into high school classrooms to teach the basics of the legal system.

Starting with a single class at Washington, DC’s Eastern High School, the Street Law model has evolved into an international program, adopted for use in law schools across the U.S. and in 45 countries. Among the program’s alumni is Vice President Kamala Harris, who taught Street Law at Fremont High School while a student at University of California Law San Francisco.

The program’s impact for Georgetown has also been profound. One of the first experiential learning courses at the Law Center, Street Law helped to set the foundation for Georgetown’s national preeminence in clinical education.

Johnny Barnes (L’73, L’76), one of the student founders of Street Law, credits the vision of faculty members, including initial Street Law instructor Jason Newman and constitutional law professor John Kramer, for championing the program. “They fought for clinical instruction as a legitimate part of legal education,” says Barnes.

Working with Newman and adjunct professor Ed O’Brien (L’73), Barnes laid the groundwork for the broader national program, writing original course materials, securing grant funding, and introducing Street Law into other law schools.

From the start, Street Law was designed to be pertinent to the lives of high school students living in the District. Barnes recalls telling Newman, “These students need to learn that the law can be a tool to help, rather than an instrument to hurt.”

“We serve a majority of Black and brown students, so teaching them about the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments, how they can comport themselves in an interaction with police officers, is especially significant,” adds Charisma Howell (L’11), current Street Law director.

Street Law faculty and students strive to create topics for coursework and cases that are directly relevant to high schoolers. Tarik Barrett (L’14) wrote a number of mock trial cases as a Street Law Teaching Fellow between 2018 and 2021, covering emerging issues like the effects of rhetoric in social media and the treatment of trans athletes under the D.C. Human Rights Act.

“The point of Street Law is to empower these students with the tools, resources, and skills they need to become active citizens,” said Barrett. “We want to create safe spaces for them to engage in meaningful conversations, so when they go out and have these conversations in real life, they know what they feel and how to articulate it.”

“The greatest joy is when somebody comes up to you and says, ‘I took Street Law [in high school] and I’m now a lawyer,’” Barnes added. “There’s no better feeling.”

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