High Schoolers Show Off Their Creativity in the First Annual ABA YLD Law Day Video Contest

Volume 36, Issue 6


About the author

Jill M. Kastner is ABA YLD Communications Director and an Attorney at Legal Action of Wisconsin's Road to Opportunity Program, removing legal barriers to employment.

If you think today’s high school students don’t know anything about the law or that they lack creativity, think again. This year, hundreds of students worked together and individually to submit about 50 videos for the ABA YLD’s Video Contest.

This year, the ABA YLD challenged students across the country to produce three-minute, YouTube-style videos on the topic of this year’s Law Day theme, The Legacy of John Adams, from Boston to Guantanamo, in celebration of Law Day 2011. Several states participated in the national competition, while additional states held their own local competitions. Students were encouraged to visit the ABA Law Day website (at www.americanbar.org/groups/public_education/initiatives_awards/law_day.html) for research information, but were left to decide for themselves how best to capture this year’s theme.

Students Challenged

“The videos span a wide range of styles and include animation, documentary, reenactment, and satire,” said Jeff Neu, Coordinator of the 2011 ABA YLD Law Day Video Contest. “The four finalist videos were exceptional in their creative portrayal and use of the theme.”

“It’s amazing to me how clever students can be,” said Mark O’Halloran, the ABA YLD Public Service Director. “You would think someone from Pixar put some of these together. They were very well done.”

While the production quality of the videos was very impressive, what impressed the public service team most was how the students demonstrated their understanding of the topic. “This year’s sophisticated Law Day theme challenged students to evaluate a legal principle that has been tested repeatedly throughout our country’s history,” said Mark. “It was impressive to see the students’ research lead to an understanding of that important legal principle, and it’s even more impressive to see them creatively explain it in just three minutes!” said Mark. “All four winners had very different styles . . . but they all got it.”

Participating in Law Day

The four finalists included two from New Jersey and one each from Nevada and Illinois. These talented students were awarded a free three-day trip to Washington, D.C. In addition to taking in the sites, they were invited to participate in interactive events planned by the ABA Committee on Public Education, dined with ABA leaders, received a private tour of the Supreme Court and met with a Supreme Court Justice, and watched the movie, The Conspirator. The winning video was announced at a special ceremony, and all four finalists received plaques.

“The kids were thrilled,” said Mark. When the calls were made to the student finalists, many shrieked or shouted with excitement. “It was like they were opening up the present of their dreams,” said Mark.

The contest was a rewarding experience for every student who participated and learned more about the second President of the United States and our legal system. Even students who did not make the final four were sent letters thanking them for their submission.

“I hope the students gained an appreciation for the role of lawyers in upholding the fundamental principle of the rule of law through the prevailing controversies of the day,” said ABA YLD Chair David Wolfe. “I hope students and their teachers will continue to take part in Law Day by making it an annual part of their curriculum.”

Continuing the Video Contest for Years to Come

The ABA YLD plans to expand the Video Contest over the next several years and hopes to eventually get videos from all 50 states. The contest got a slow start this year because of several unanticipated obstacles, including the development and approval of contest entry forms that complied with the different rules and regulations of all 50 states—not a simple task for a contest aimed at minors. Now, this work has been done and should be easier to replicate in the coming years.

“We expect that next year’s team will be able to use the foundation built by this year’s team to exponentially increase participation in 2011–2012,” said Mark. “We heard from several states that weren’t able to add it to their curriculum this year, but were excited to do so next year.”

What Affiliates Can Do to Participate Next Year

For Affiliates who did not participate this year, Mark identified five things they should know:

  1. This program is going to happen next year and in succeeding years. ABA YLD leadership has committed to continuing this contest and giving support to Affiliates who want to be involved.
  2. This is an easy program to administer. The ABA YLD prepares the shell contest forms, has the forum for the videos, and even sends out a letter of thanks to each student who submits a video.
  3. The ABA YLD will help Affiliates put this program together. An entire team of young lawyers is dedicated to helping states implement the contest. Use them.
  4. You can have your own state’s winner. The ABA YLD will select the national winners, but wants each state to review its own videos and select the state’s winners.
  5. Start promoting the contest early in the school year so that teachers can incorporate the program into their curriculums.

The most challenging part of this program is informing teachers and students about the contest. “Find people in a position to spread the word for you,” Mark suggests. This includes not only history, civics, and social studies teachers but also reaching out to less likely resources, such as art and drama teachers and administrators who love the multi-disciplinary nature of the contest.

For more information about the ABA YLD Law Day Video Competition and to watch the winners from this year, go to www.abanet.org/yld/lawday.



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