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November 17, 2021 Vol. 47, No. 2

Law Day and so much more: Resources your bar can use for public education and civic engagement

By Frank Valadez

Frank Valadez is director of the ABA Division for Public Education. Members of the ABA Standing Committee on Public Education and its Advisory Commission, as well as the staff of the ABA Division for Public Education, contributed suggestions for this article.

Lawyers are natural leaders in helping members of the public understand law, the legal system, and American government, and they can also be ambassadors for the profession by engaging in public outreach with various audiences—including youth, through school programs. Bars can play an impactful role in mobilizing and coordinating their members in engaging the public. Successful engagement, of course, requires planning; thankfully, a wide range of organizations have created, maintain, and provide countless free resources that you and your members can use to connect with diverse members of the public. Here is a brief overview of some of the resources and organizations that you can leverage to help expand and improve your public outreach.

Start here for Law Day planning

Law Day is an excellent point of departure for public outreach. Every year since 1958, the American Bar Association has celebrated Law Day on May 1. The purpose of Law Day is to celebrate the rule of law and provide an opportunity to understand how law and the legal system protect our liberty, strive to achieve justice, and contribute to the freedoms that Americans share. Hundreds of organizations across the country—including courts, law firms, schools, and bar organizations—hold programs to commemorate Law Day, engaging thousands of people.

The ABA Division for Public Education maintains a Law Day website with everything you need to plan and hold a successful program with people in your community—including planning and discussion guides, sample proclamations, promotional materials, and more. For more information about Law Day or other resources, feel free to contact us directly at [email protected].

Help students understand Supreme Court cases

The United States Supreme Court is increasingly in the news and a source of intense public attention. ABA Preview in the Classroom is a series of lesson plans on current Supreme Court cases that teachers can use to help students understand the actual cases and legal issues that the Supreme Court addresses in its current term. Drawn on the Division for Public Education’s publication, Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases, which covers facts and background on Supreme Court cases, Preview in the Classroom provides educators with the information they need to lead engaging lessons with students on important cases that are before the court.

The Division for Public Education also maintains a website with additional classroom resources for teachers and other leaders to help students understand law and the legal system, including mock trials designed particularly for use with elementary school students.

Simulations and guides for mock trials, moot courts

Street Law has just released updated classroom guides to mock trials and moot courts, which are available for free download and are definitely worth a look. Active learning through simulations of trial courts and appellate courts can increase students’ knowledge and interest in law and civics. These guides support teachers in implementing mock trials and moot courts in the classroom. They include step-by-step lesson plans, student handouts, and links to updated materials. 

Courts offer resources, ways to connect with federal judges

The United States Courts maintains a web page with helpful resources for public outreach, including a guide for a Supreme Court simulation and a list of observances and opportunities to engage the public about law. U.S. Courts also provides a point of contact to arrange for a federal judge to participate in a program in your area. Similarly, Justice for All: Courts and the Community, a project of the Federal Courts of the Second Circuit, has helpful resources, including printable resources on the court system. You might check to see if your federal court district has similar programs and resources.

Bar resources worth borrowing

The Texas Law-Related Education Department of the State Bar of Texas offers a great model for bar organizations to engage the community to advance law-related and civic education programs. They also offer numerous resources, such as lesson plans organized by grade level, to support effective engagement.

Become a civic education champion

This list only scratches the surface. Organizations like the Civics Renewal Network provide links to hundreds of resources from dozens of organizations. The iCivics games are a truly wonderful way to engage students, and iCivics also provides links to useful primary sources.

Finally, but importantly, there is a growing movement across the country to expand and improve civic education. The Educating for American Democracy project provides a guide for advocacy that provides tools for people and organizations to take action to support these efforts. Your bar can also become an EAD Champion by committing to support efforts to improve civic education. The American Bar Association is a champion and partner in this project, and encourages other bar organizations to join the effort.

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