Bar News - October 5, 2007
Law Related Education Mock Trial Is Only Part of Law Related Education Story
By: Eleanor W. Dahar, NHBA President
For a number of years, the New Hampshire Bar Association has annually staged Mock Trial competitions in courthouses around the state. This year, the Bar Association is not coordinating the competition. Although it was not going to be a popular decision, it was a well-considered one, made after much deliberation by our elected board of governors over the appropriate focus for the Bar’s educational outreach efforts.
Many students have benefited from the program, no doubt. Many teachers and lawyers who have served as coaches have contributed to its success with their hard work, dedication and ingenuity. However, the competition had grown to the point where it was straining the Bar Association’s resources and it was overshadowing other education programs offered by the Bar Association. Months of work behind-the-scenes is required to schedule competitions, find sites, handle last-minute pairing changes, and recruit volunteers to serve as presiding or scoring judges, timers and other helpers to make the competitions happen. Last year, 37 teams from 29 schools competed in six preliminary round competitions and eight teams competed in the state championship competition. Using courthouses that are busy during the week necessitated several Saturday competitions, which heightens the challenge of finding sufficient numbers of volunteers.
The Bar continues to promote Mock Trial as part of its law related education offerings, providing support materials and assisting the schools interested in preserving the competition aspect of the program if they choose.
The Bar’s commitment to educational outreach has not diminished, but it is being refocused. Lawyers and judges in New Hampshire contribute countless hours throughout the school year to educate students and the community about the importance of the rule of law and how our system of government operates. These efforts are conducted largely through programs sponsored by the New Hampshire Bar Association and supported by funding from the New Hampshire Bar Foundation, a philanthropy established and supported by the legal profession. Most of these programs, unlike Mock Trial, meet the civics education requirements of the state’s education standards and take place during the school day.
A particular focus of the Bar Association is on educating students and citizens on the importance of the rule of law in our society, and how our Constitution upholds the rule of law. Lawyers have a special relationship with the Constitution. They affirm their support for the laws of the United States established by the Constitution; support for the law is a guiding principle of the citizenry.
On Constitution Day last month, the Bar provided access to materials through our Web site at www.nhbar.org. Preparations also are underway for “We the People…the Citizen and the Constitution,” a program entering its 21st year in New Hampshire, that guides students through the background of the creation of our Constitution and how its principles have been applied through the years and today. Some schools obtain the workbooks and instructional materials for use only in class, others participate in a statewide competition that the Bar Association continues to sponsor. This program takes place on only two dates, and is open to a broader base of students, since the competition requires the participation of entire classes.
The Bar Association’s commitment to law related education continues throughout the year. In early spring, Project Citizen provides middle school students with the opportunity to collaborate on addressing public problems with policy solutions. Their work is showcased for the state in a portfolio exhibition, when their efforts are evaluated by a team of volunteers recruited by the Bar Association. This summer, the state champion team from Exeter Cooperative School had its project judged as “Exceptional” in a national event in Boston.
The New Hampshire Bar also collaborates with the judicial branch on its educational programs, including the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s twice-yearly presentation of actual oral arguments before audiences of high school students. Another such program takes place at Bow High School on Oct. 25.
Later in the school year, the Bar Association coordinates the visits of hundreds of attorneys and judges to schools around the state. The volunteer presenters, with access to a variety of lesson plans from the Bar Association, interact with the students on a variety of topics, selecting programs tailored to the needs and interests of the teachers and the students.
Through these events, ongoing mailings to schools, maintaining an active Web site, and providing support for educators in many ways, the Bar Association continues to be an active partner with the schools in civic and law related education. Our commitment is year-round and all encompassing, and we encourage anyone with an interest in law related education to visit our Web site at www.nhbar.org to find out more.