On the 7th and 8th September, Jennifer Rowlinson and Rebecca Menzies attended the Inaugural UK and Ireland Street Law Best Practices Conference at the University of Birmingham.   Below they share their experiences of the conference.

Jennifer Rowlinson: As the former Schools Project Manager I wanted to attend the conference to discover ways that we could better develop our Street Law programmes. I am pleased to say that I returned from the conference with a number of ideas that the conference helped develop best practice.

Rebecca Menzies: As the manager of the Prisons Project, as well as a member of the Schools Project, I wanted to attend the conference to discover ways to develop the Prisons Project and engaging both the offenders and pupils. I came home from the conference with lots of ideas of how to develop our current Street Law based programmes.

Day 1

Jennifer Rowlinson: In the first session of the day we heard a number of presentations about street law in the community. The presentations included “Street Law in Schools” by Francis Ridout and “Street Law in Prisons” by Freda Grealy.

I found the section on “Street Law and Litigants in Person” of particular interest. In Birmingham University, students provide presentations in the Employment Tribunal on a weekly basis to unrepresented litigants. From my own experiences in the Law Clinic, I have seen a number of cases which have been referred to us by employment judges because claimants are unable to understand the process.

The second half of the day focused on skills development. During the first session, Richard Grimes, John Lunney and Renata Burdova provided presentations on sample Street Law sessions: delivery, pedagogy and method. This highlighted how we need to go back to basics when creating new Street Law presentations.

In the final session of the day, Efrain Marimon and Melinda Cooperman presented the “Evidence Showdown: Teaching Strategies for Mock Trials”.  I enjoyed this session because it showcased the different methods you can use to facilitate interaction. You can start off with something as simple as a video and before you know it you have created a live trial.

Rebecca Menzies: From the morning sessions, it was clear that I was oblivious to the number of ways Street Law can be used in the community. I had simply linked Street Law to our two projects but the morning sessions opened my eyes to a number of other ways it can be used to benefit the community.

I found the section on “Street Law and Litigants in Person” by Linden Thomas of particular interest.  This session highlighted the need to have learning objectives for each talk and then to have an evaluation process for all parties involved to ensure these learning objectives are being met.

Day 2

Jennifer Rowlinson:  At the end of day 1, we were given a topic from which we were to create our own Street Law programme.  From seeing only five presentations, it was interesting to see the different methods of Street Law. I particularly enjoyed the programme on Consumer Rights as this is an area covered in the Schools Project. After each programme, the other groups provided feedback and we were able to speak of further ways we could improve the session.

During the second session, John Lunney, Richard Grimes and Sarah Morse presented sessions on “Building Street Law into the Curriculum”.  Once again, I learned about the importance of developing a good training programme which not only creates better presentations but creates better advisors. John Lunney pointed out that the Street Law sessions should be based on audience interaction, allowing students to be more like facilitators and less like lectures.

In the final session, BPP University provided a presentation on “Troubleshooting: Overcoming Practical Problems in your Street Law Programmes”.  It was interesting to see how a number of the issues we face also happen on other Street Law programmes. This session allowed us to discuss possible solutions.

Rebecca Menzies: I really enjoyed the short sample Street Law presentations. It was interesting to see the wide range of techniques which could be used to engage the audience and stimulate conversations.

The session on incorporating Street Law into the curriculum, and the session by Efrian and Melinda, highlighted to me the advantages of training the students more competently than we currently do. It highlighted that our training programmes for prisons and schools need more of a focus on the fundamentals of Street Law, ensuring our students go into the community with the correct skills.

Final Thoughts

Jennifer Rowlinson: Upon reflection, the Street Law conference has taught me about the importance of training and feedback if we want to progress with our Street Law programmes.

Rebecca Menzies:  Looking back at the conference, I definitely achieved my goal of seeking new ways for us to develop our Street Law programmes. It opened my eyes to the number of community groups who could benefit from Street Law and the wide variety of ways in which it can be used.