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A Law Education Isn’t Just for Lawyers

Street Law is a program at the Douglass High School in Leesburg, Virginia, that offers practical legal literacy to help students navigate life.

Douglass High School in Leesburg, Virginia, USA, 12 August 2008 / Acroterion / (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified, crop

By Matthew E. Bass, attorney at Burnett & Williams P.C., Loudoun, Fairfax, and Northern Virginia

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Street Law program at the Douglass School in Leesburg, Virginia. Street Law was founded in 2014 by local attorney Buta Biberaj of Biberaj Snow & Sinclair, PC, in cooperation with the Douglass School. The goal of the Street Law program is to match local attorneys with high school students, providing the students an opportunity to discuss a range of legal subjects that they may encounter, including juvenile rights, employment, and criminal and civil law.

Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

Alongside local attorney Rachel L. Virk, I shared stories from my own practice experience and answered students’ questions on a variety of (mostly) legal topics.

Engaging with the students at the Douglass School reminded me that the law governs almost every aspect of our daily lives. From what we eat and how we drive, to renting and owning homes, to simply listening to music, the law is all around us — all the time. The debate over whether that’s good or bad is for another day, but hearing high school students wonder aloud about issues such as emancipation, child custody, or what to do if you get pulled over for speeding impressed two important points on me.

Two Things That Young People Really Need (and Neither is Chromium):

1. Young people need exposure to the practical aspects of law as early as possible.

Because law is so deeply ingrained in our society, it behooves us to educate our children on the practical aspects of the law as early as possible. The Virginia State Bar has published a helpful guide for soon-to-be-adults entitled “So You’re 18“. It contains answers to practical questions that many students nearing graduation don’t know and couldn’t have picked up from experience. For example, many have little idea about the requirement for car insurance. Without disparaging the enormous responsibility of our education system, knowing if you need car insurance in Virginia seems like information that is just as important (if not more!) than being able to identify Cr on the periodic table. (It’s Chromium, in case you were wondering — I had to look it up to make sure.) Of course, I’m biased in this particular respect, and I wasn’t drawn to chemistry.

2. Young people need role models — people that they can see as future versions of themselves — to help navigate the difficult transition to adulthood.

Despite all the laws governing how we conduct our daily lives, there’s no regulation to determine what a young person will do after high school, college, and beyond. There are certainly great parents and mentors, but in many cases it’s impossible to pursue an opportunity that isn’t known, regardless of good intentions.

Being back in a high school for an afternoon reminded me that it’s hard to be a teenager.

I had no idea at age 18, pushing a lawn mower for my job, that I would become a lawyer one day, or that after law school, some ten years later, I would ultimately specialize in personal injury law. It struck me how valuable it was to have real people as examples for any person’s future aspirations.

In this respect, the Street Law program can be a model for bringing a diversity of local professionals together with young people in an effort to provide them with the examples they need. Not to mention providing them with a few helpful pointers for navigating the complicated waters of adulthood — and some free legal advice as well. I don’t recall anything similar when I was in high school. If there had been, maybe I’d have gone straight to law school after college, or maybe I’d still be cutting grass at a golf course somewhere (best job I ever had). Either way, I’m certain that the more often we engage our young people with the working communities around them — lead by example, show them how to manage adult responsibilities and decision making, and offer career insights — the more likely they are to successfully leap from the fishbowl of high school to the sea of what comes next.

Matthew E. Bass is an attorney specializing in representing those who have been seriously injured as the result of someone else’s negligence. If you or someone you know has been seriously injured through no fault of your own, please contact the attorneys at Burnett & Williams here or by calling 703-777-1650.