A group of 30 teenagers sampled the delights of mock trials and the appellate process during a two-week intensive program on the legal system held at Duke Law in June.
Taught for a second consecutive year by Professor Thomas Metzloff, the course was part of Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (TIP) for gifted middle and high school students. The classes tracked those taken by first-year law students, exposing Metzloff’s class of “tipsters” to such concepts as punitive damages, appellate history, judicial policy, due process, and other aspects of the American legal system.
Metzloff’s “Voices of American Law” documentary series offered a key springboard for discussion of seminal – and often controversial – Supreme Court cases.
“The documentaries are the core of the course, it’s a wonderful learning tool,” said Metzloff. “At the end of a documentary on the case establishing the Ku Klux Klan’s First Amendment right to burn crosses in which the ‘grand dragon’ was represented by an African American lawyer, the students were so engaged, they applauded on hearing the Court’s decision.”
In classroom discussions, Metzloff made sure to focus on engaging and interesting aspects of law. Students learned that labels stating “caution, very hot,” are put on McDonalds coffee cups because of the ruling in Liebeck v. McDonalds, a lawsuit brought by a a 79-year-old woman who was burned by coffee that was 40 degrees hotter than the recommended serving temperature, and why Halloween “Batman” costumes carry disclaimers warning that they are “not intended for flying.”
His students were clearly engaged. When he asked, during one morning session, what a judge might mean by a “suspicious eyebrow raise,” about 20 hands shot into the air.
Guest lecturers in the program included James E. Coleman Jr., the John S. Bradway Professor of Law, who gave the students an overview on the death penalty, one of his areas of specialty.
“It’s really great that students have leading people in their field chatting with them about important issues” said Metzloff.
Duke Law’s TIP students hailed from around the country and as far away as Shanghai, China. They stayed in residence halls on campus, participated in social mixers, and “speed-friending” events when they weren’t involved with classwork.
“This really gave me an idea of what college life is like, it helps with finding your career path and helps students who are undecided,” said Chaz Torres, a rising sophomore from Georgia.
─ Mea Foster