Learning the law of the land

Chief United States District Judge of the Central District of Illinois James E. Shadid '79 speaks inside his courtroom to high school students attending Bradley's Pre-Law Summer Enrichment Program.

By Frank Radosevich II
June 18, 2012

A jail cell is not a place most high school students want to see. But going behind bars at the Peoria Country Jail was a visit that 16-year-old Kayla Arroyave relished.

“The jail was extremely interesting,” said Arroyave of Naperville, Ill. “You don’t really get the opportunity to go inside of one.”

Rather than being a hardened criminal, Arroyave was one of 16 high school students from Illinois, Missouri, Indiana and Iowa who participated in Bradley’s Pre-Law Summer Enrichment Program last week. The teenagers lived on campus to learn about the origins of law, how the U.S. legal system has developed and how cases play out in the courts.

Sabrina Acker, 16, said she was interested in law since shadowing a lawyer her freshman and sophomore year. Bradley’s program, she said, opened her eyes to the possibility of a law career.

“We have classes in the morning and field trips or activities in the afternoon,” said the Lake Bluff, Ill., native. “We’re learning but from different people and experiences, too.”

Besides touring the jail and crime lab, students listened to guest speakers ranging from a federal judge, defense attorneys and experts in the legal field. They also learned about the nomination process for federal judges, how to argue appellate briefs and the ins and outs of analyzing case law.

“The students have very well thought-out questions, and they have been genuinely interested in the program,” said Nicole Meyer, director of Bradley’s Pre-Law Center, who organized and led the students during the weeklong program. “This wouldn’t be successful if not for all of the attorneys, law students and judges who volunteered their time.”

True to Bradley’s mission of experiential learning, the teens spent their time working with the law and not simply hearing about it.

They presented oral arguments in front of a mock court, pretended they were candidates for judicial nominations and that other students were members of the senate. They also learned how to read case law and draw conclusions when they are give the law to apply to the facts.

Arroyave said the program convinced her to pursue a law degree.

“This program has made law more appealing to me. It’s a lot of work but I think getting that law degree can take you anywhere,” she said. “We have a good balance here of fun and academics.”

Meyer said the program also allows Bradley to showcase its people and campus to prospective students who, for the most part, have never been to the University.

“Many students are intimidated when they leave home and go to college,” she said. “These students will have already found a second home at Bradley before they have begun their senior year of high school.”