BYU law school hosts new legal camp

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Students had the opportunity to hear from practicing lawyers and judges at BYU law’s first ever legal summer camp. (Ellen Huish and Megan Matheson)

The J. Reuben Clark Law School hosted their first ever Civics, Law and Leadership Youth Camp with the hopes of creating a model that could expand nationwide.

High school students representing 22 U.S states and one foreign country spent July 31 – August 5 immersed in a hands on legal learning experience through activities such as visiting courts, interacting with law student mentors serving as small group leaders and judges and attending lectures from law professors.

“It was really nice to learn lots of new interesting facts about the law and then see how it applied in person in the courtroom,” said camp participant Carrie Jia. “I think my favorite experiences were the talks held by many distinguished judges and the professors.”

Participants were also able to do a challenging legal exercise called moot court.

“Moot court was stressful,” said Banah Khamis, a camp participant from Jordan. “It was a taste of what we would do in our first year of law school. The attorneys used legal terminology and everything, so I felt like I was in an actual courtroom.”

Kari Van Sickle, J. Reuben Clark Law School’s Director of Admissions, said she was amazed at how well the students performed.

“These high school students were required to read actual rulings by the fourth circuit and the tenth circuit,” Van Sickle said. “They were presented a fact pattern and had to synthesize the info from those cases, apply them and then present arguments orally in front of various practicing attorneys in the community.”

Rob Clark, a private practicing lawyer from Salt Lake City and a member of the Federal Bar Association, recommended BYU as the best place to pilot a civics camp when members of the association began to take an interest in civics education and national level efforts to have students interact with judges.

“I presented that idea at BYU and the law school liked it, the university liked it and there were a lot of generous people who donated money so this could take place,” Clark said. “We weren’t sure at first whether we’d get a dozen students that would be interested in this, but we had about 70 students who were spectacularly prepared.”

Gayla Sorenson, the Dean of Admissions at the J.Reuben Clark Law School, said the camp itinerary was developed with three elements in mind — civics, law and leadership — and the goals to give students a better understanding of the framework of government and develop a sense of how they have roles to play as citizens.

Sorenson described visiting the courthouse in Salt Lake City for a panel discussion with several senior and more experienced judges as a particularly touching moment for her during the camp.

She noted the juxtaposition of the judges who have devoted decades of their life to public service and service to humanity around the globe, sharing their experiences with young high school students who are excited, enthusiastic, soaking up info and susceptible to role models.

“To me, that captured what this was all about,” Sorenson said. “Taking the best of the experiences of a generation ahead and using that to help inspire the generation that’s coming.”

As far as those involved know, this is the first camp of its kind to be done and there is already talk of replication.

Sorenson is hopeful the model will spread nationally. She believes it is important, especially during younger ages, to get the rising generation to see how solutions can be reached by listening and being substantively knowledgeable rather than just being the loudest voice in the room.

Van Sickle would also like to see the camp shape a national model.

“One of our campers told her mentor that her takeaway from this camp was she needed to get better grades and that hit me in the gut,” Van Sickle said. “Because I hope every single one of these students comes here and catches a vision of their potential and if we can do that for even one student at every law school in the nation, we’ll be making a difference.”

Emma Allen, a camp participant from New Mexico, liked the connections she was able to make with people through her experience.

“We got to meet the dean of admissions, the dean of the law school and when we went to the court, I got to talk to Judge Kimball who was over the Elizabeth Smart case,” Allen said. “It was really cool to pick his brain and to learn more about the law.”

Clark believes many of the students came because they recognized the need for leadership in the country and that the camp experience turns one into an optimist. 

“You see the light in the eyes of these future leaders and you see their commitment and their character and you know that as long as we have individuals like this who care about the future of our world that there will be good things happening,” Clark said. “There are always problems, but every time things are really hard great leaders emerge and I believe that they will.”