Shaping Your minds

RES GESTAE | Summer 2020

Any law student will tell you that there’s a lot of schoolwork — legal research, assigned readings, writing briefs — that doesn’t directly relate to physically going to court. But new graduate Stacie Simpson spent five days a week in a pretend courtroom preparing for a battle with a team of young attorneys, witnesses, and bailiffs as part of the Kids’ Court program during the 2019-2020 academic year.

Kids’ Court is a service-learning project for law students. Volunteers spend afternoons teaching and coaching middle schoolers in preparation for a mock trial competition in late February.

Students in their first semester of law school may be eager to dive into pro bono work, but they lack the legal knowledge to help out at the pro bono sites that offer free legal advice to community members. Kids’ Court can fill the gap as law students continue to gain more experience for more service work later on, Simpson said.

“Kids’ Court is the perfect service opportunity for 1Ls,” she said. “We start off with teaching the basics of the judicial system, so the 1Ls are learning right alongside the middle schoolers.”

As the student coordinator of the Kids’ Court program, Simpson organized the volunteer schedule, helped decipher the assigned mock court Stacie Simpson case and acted as the main coach for the middle school team.

Simpson credits the Kids’ Court program as creating some of the most meaningful moments during her time at law school. Cheering on the middle schoolers and watching the hours of preparation pay off during last years’ competition is a moment she will never forget.

“I want to make sure that these kids know that they are so incredibly smart,” Simpson said. “I think that’s the best part about this program, seeing them grow in confidence.” Currently in its twelfth year, the Kids’ Court program was designed to provide civic learning opportunities to young students from underserved populations. Associate Dean Reyes Aguilar specifically chose a school that wouldn’t otherwise have funds for an after-school program like Kids’ Court.

“The entire purpose behind the program is to encourage the students to seek further education,” Simpson said. “It would be great if they came to law school, but it’s more to help them realize how smart they really are, to get them interested in learning, and to give them an opportunity to do something really cool that they might not otherwise not be able to do.”