Translating “legal-ese” into plain English is no easy task, even for experienced lawyers. But as a student at the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 1997, Katherine Cook Morgan found herself having to explain the ABCs of law to local high school students. Morgan was participating in the Street Law program, a nationwide effort in which students from 70 law schools teach practical law in high school, juvenile justice, prison and community settings.
“The idea is to give high school students (and others) an understanding of their legal rights and responsibilities, and to get them to think critically about that,” says Morgan, who now practices labor and employment law as a partner at Frost Brown Todd in Cincinnati. Each week, she had to go into a high school classroom for 50 minutes, three days a week, to teach what she had learned.
While she found the initial experience of standing in front of a high school class “challenging and terrifying,” Morgan says she “loved thinking about law in a different way, and how to present the material in an interactive way.” She recalled one instance where she led a Withrow High School social studies class through a mock trial, with students playing the roles of attorneys and witnesses, and U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott presiding. “The students really do seem to enjoy it,” Morgan says.
After she graduated and went on to work at Frost Brown Todd, Morgan was asked to be co-director of the Street Law program — a time-consuming but rewarding position. “Katie did a lot to help keep the program going after it was handed to her,” says attorney Jordan L. Cheng, who served as director of the program after Morgan. “She developed a great curriculum that [helped] Street Law student teachers go into the various schools and successfully implement the materials.”
When Morgan went on maternity leave to take care of her newborn daughter two and a half years ago, she handed the reins of the Street Law program over to Cheng. Morgan’s contributions helped make the program a success, he says, with more than 40 UC law students and about 450 high school students participating since 2000.
While she keeps in touch with Cheng and the continued success of Street Law, Morgan has moved on to other challenges, including her firm’s initiatives to recruit and retain a diverse work force. But she credits the “unforgiving audience” of high school students with helping her develop the skills she employs as a lawyer.