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Montgomery Bar Association Judges and Lawyers in the Classroom

Montgomery Bar Association
Judges and Lawyers in the Classroom
Three Norristown Middle Schools-- Stewart Middle School, East Norriton Middle School and the Eisenhower Science and Technology Leadership Academy
Fifth and Sixth Grades

Six sessions (September, October, November, March, April, May)

1. September - Framing Question: Why study law?
2. October - Framing Question: Where Do Rights Come From?
3. November - Framing Question: What Is the Role of the Citizen?
4. March - Framing Question: What is the Role of the Judge?
5. April - Framing Question: How does the appeal process work?
6. May - Framing Question: What are some law-related career options?


September - the goal is to introduce students to the law and the team of judges and lawyers who will be visiting the classroom throughout the year. This session should be informative but more importantly establish a connection and rapport with the students to encourage their involvement and participation. Students should feel comfortable talking with the judges and lawyers and realize this will be an interesting and engaging visit.

Framing Question: Why study law?

I like to start with an oldie but goodie lesson entitled "10 Things I'd Rather be Doing" in which you challenge the students to come up with the answer to the hardest question they will ever be asked-- can the students think of ten things they would rather be doing than listening to you. Make some lists (pick some students to write on the Board or the lawyers on the team can write on the board or they can bring giant post-it notes and markers to write on the walls) and then go through each item and show how the law is connected to everything they have thought of (sleeping, from the tags on pillows to laws about who you can and cannot "sleep" with; shopping, from implied warranties to the "legal tender" on the money). This underscores why they need to know about the law as they prepare to move forward with their lives.

Challenge the students to come up with new ideas that they think are unconnected to the law. Throw the challenge back to the class and see if they can think if anything unconnected to the law.

Now raise the question about why the lawyer/judge team is in this 5th or 6th grade class. See if the students have ideas-don't be offended if their ideas involve some sort of money making scheme. Explain to the students about pro bono service and public interest law-this is a form of preventative pro bono. Research shows that law-related and civic education, when properly presented, reduces delinquent behavior. This is the time to do some introduction of yourself-what kind of law you practice, where you grew up, etc.

You might want to reference the www.palawhelp.org website which has tons of materials about civil law (it is our client pro bono site).

Keep it as interactive as possible and be prepared for the questions about how much you make!

Now move to the No Vehicles in the Park lesson, the classic lesson in the field that grew out of Harvard and Yale Law Schools in the fifties.

With any discussion, these two lessons should take up the full class. If there is time remaining, please feel welcome to share with the students plans for the year and more about yourselves.

Optional follow-up activity if time allows
Order a Constitution Signing Kit for each school from the National Constitution Center and leave it at the school for Constitution Day, Friday, September 17th.

October -the goal is to show the students that the team will return as promised and to teach them that ours is a nation of laws and that the law is everywhere, a nice follow-up to the opening Mindwalk/10 Things I'd Rather Be Doing Lesson.

Framing Question: Where Do Rights Come From?

Begin the lesson on rules and laws by looking at the In Your Community Map/Poster - identify with the students examples of various laws shown at work in the picture and note whether they are local, state or federal. Compare the federalism of local, state and national laws with the hierarchy of rules from home, the classroom and the school. Explain how certain things are the province of different levels of government though there is overlap.

Provide state and federal constitutions for the students to review. Explain that both give protections to us and each gives us things for which we are responsible, too. Then explain to the class that intelligent beings from another planet far away have landed near Norristown and that they are most impressed with our rules and laws. They have looked at the rights in the PA and US Constitutions and they want to take those rights back with them to their home planet. However, despite their ability to travel across the universe, their memory chips only have room for 5 of the rights so they want the students to pick out the 5 best rights. Give the students the Rights and Freedoms handout and have them rank them one to 10, 1 being their best and 10 being their least important right. Tell them they are free to add any other rights they know about that they think important and not on this list.

You can have the students vote to select their top five or you can play a game called "My Right is Better than Your Right" in which each of the rights are posted on signs around the class and each student is asked to stand in front of the right which that student thinks is most important. The right with the smallest number of student supporters is considered first and students supporting that right are given a chance to explain why they favor that right above others. If the students can move enough students to their right, the right stays up If it is still the right with the fewest students, it is taken down and those students have to pick a new right. The process is repeated until only one right remains.

Optional follow-up activity #1 if time allows (or if the group makes a second visit during the month)
Have the students find the page numbers in the PA and US Constitutions for each right listed in the ten above.

Optional follow-up activity #2
Rights and Freedoms - Where are they found?
You will need copies of the US and PA Constitutions
Rights and Freedoms - Where are they found? Lesson
Student Handout
Answer Sheet

November - the focus of this lesson will be the Courts where rights are protected. Bill of Rights Day is December 15 and this lesson highlights the importance of trial by jury. There are a number of mock trials that can be shared with the students, from Commonwealth v. Goldilocks to real life trials.

Framing Question: What Is the Role of the Citizen?

Use the Lesson Law in Western Medieval Societies: Introduction to Early Democracy, Citizenship and the Jury System

Optional follow-up activity if time allows (or if the group makes a second visit during the month)
Use the Jury System lesson from Scholastic

Please note that the Montgomery Bar Association has its own jury lesson for middle school built each year on the statewide mock trial problem - the most recent one that is available online is 2008 but this should be incorporated-- This project was developed to educate area youth on the evolution and importance of juries in our legal process. The Middle School Jury Project also provides an early primer to the High School Mock Trial Competitions, sponsored annually by the MBA's Young Lawyer Section. For the Middle School Jury Project, lawyers affiliated with the Montgomery Bar Association are paired with area teachers to prepare and deliver a lesson on the jury process and the importance of jury service. That same lawyer acts as guide and mentor to the class when they make their trip to the Montgomery County Courthouse to view a live mock trial case - often presented by their respective area high school. Following their observation of the mock trial, students are engaged in the jury process by deliberating back in the classroom and reaching their own verdict. This process is guided by the teacher and a Curriculum Guide prepared annually by the Middle School Jury Project Committee.

Optional follow-up activity if time allows
Show the "Pennsylvania's Courts: A Video Introduction" DVD produced by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) and use the follow-up lessons that available from the AOPC. The video is also available online.

March -the goal is to remind students that it is best to resolve problems in a peaceful civilized manner and that there are various options long before you get to court but sometimes, especially in criminal cases where the rights of victims need to be upheld, courts are the place we turn.

Framing Question: What is the Role of the Judge?

Mini-Mock Trials
You have two possible mock trial lessons to use. One is the East Africa exercise where students have to decide which of three judges' opinions on the case seems the best (there is no correct answer). This is a great lesson that can be extended by having the students create closing arguments for each position (or even a fourth position of their own creation such as the argument that the court has no authority whatsoever to impose its law where its law is backed only by colonial claim).

The next lesson is based on the Dudley/Stephens case and raises the issue of whether there is a case for justifiable homicide. In the real case, the sailors were first convicted and then later pardoned (remind the students that, historically, there have been a number of ships that have sunk - so this case actually is not unique). Indeed, the brother of the sailor who was killed and eaten by the two said he would have done the same thing if he had been in their position.

Law & Policy in East Africa
The Shipwrecked Sailors

Optional follow-up activity #1 if time allows (or if the group makes a second visit during the month)
Do the other case.

Optional follow-up activity #2
Bring the students to the Court House to see a real trial.

April -the goal of this lesson will be to show how an appeal works using either the appeal of a fairy tale mock trial (Goldilocks lesson has a moot court built in or a case from the Supreme Court that would teach the students a life lesson such as Tinker or the more recent high speed seizure case of Scott v. Harris. These lessons would have to be modified for the 5th/6th grade audience but we can work with the teachers on this.

What is an Appellate Brief?

Case Brief Format Student Worksheet

Goldilocks Appeal

Scott v. Harris

May -the goal is Careers in the Law--a mini version of a program I do each year for the Community College of Philadelphia which is described below for younger kids.

The program features an interactive session that will move from a traffic accident through what happens after such an event when the argument over the accident leads to a fatality, highlighting various law and justice professionals-what they do, who they are and how they got to that job-so that students in Norristown can see what law-related and civic opportunities await them in the future. The Montgomery County Bar could host this program at a central site or do it in each classroom in a simplified form to celebrate its work with the local schools in the study the law.

The goal of the interactive presentation is providing junior high school students with practical information regarding several career options. Through a scenario involving a simulated accident and crime scene acted out by the lawyer and judge teams, various professionals will be introduced. The exploration of the accident and crime scene might include presentations by first responder health professionals regarding emergency response, computer forensic professionals who could talk about the role of computer forensics in crime investigation and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) professionals who could present GIS data regarding the scenario. (GIS data offers a spatial representation of relevant data.) In addition to the first responder health professionals, GIS and computer forensics professionals, the students might meet police officers, judges, lawyers and other professionals as the scenario evolves.

Here's the rough detail of the program:
Traffic Accident Scenario
An accident takes place! The incident escalates into a death-was it murder?
How does the law impact the folks in the scene? What careers in law are involved? Professionals from the above referenced law, justice and civic fields will join the students to discuss their training and experiences through the prism of the traffic accident scenario. Each professional will interact in the scene and then, with the scene frozen in time, speak to the students about his or her background, education and perspective on society.

Optional activities that can be used at any time
Hold a Press Conference where the students are given a list of prepared questions that they will ask the team. Various team members will respond to the questions keeping in mind the time allowed for the visit and the number of students and questions. Team will then turn the questioning around and ask the students questions about themselves. There should be time for follow-up and informal discussion at the end. The questions give students a better understanding of what lawyers and judges do. A variation on this lesson might be to have the students create a list of questions for the judges and lawyers to answer via email exchange with the teacher prior to the next visit.
Press Conference Lesson
Press Passes

Show the "Pennsylvania's Courts: A Video Introduction" DVD produced by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) and use the follow-up lessons that available from the AOPC. The video is also available online.