Shaping young minds

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 going to court. But third-year student Stacie Simpson spends five days a week preparing for a courtroom battle with a team of young attorneys, witnesses and bailiffs as part of the Kids’ Court program.

Stacie Simpson with some of the Kids’ Court participants.

Kids’ Court is a service-learning project for law students at the S.J. Quinney College of Law. Volunteer law students 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 is the perfect service opportunity for first-year students,” Simpson said. “We start off with teaching the basics of the judicial system, so the first years are learning right alongside the middle schoolers.”

As the student coordinator of the Kids’ Court program, Simpson organizes the volunteer schedule, helps decipher the assigned mock court case and acts as the main coach for the middle school team.

Stacie Simpson

Simpson credits the Kids’ Court program for creating some of the most meaningful moments during her time in law school. Cheering on the middle schoolers and watching the hours of preparation pay off during last year’s 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 of this program; seeing them grow in confidence.”

Currently, in its 12th 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 have extra funds for an after-school program like this one.

“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 otherwise not be able to do.”

Students in the Kids’ Court program will be competing in a mock trial competition on Feb. 24 and 27, with law student volunteers as coaches and judges.

For more information about pro bono work at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, click here.