The University of New Mexico is well-known for preparing the next generation of legal professionals within the UNM School of Law; that’s not the only option, however, for creating a new cohort of lawyers through UNM.

For over 15 years, UNM’s Continuing Education Program has played host to middle schoolers around the state for ‘Make Your Case: Introduction to Law Camp.’ This five-day spring break opportunity takes place each year for ages 10 to 14.

“In my experience, most of the kids and parents love this law camp because they see the value of the camp. From a kid's perspective – it is very fun and they can meet new friends, learn a lot about the legal system and have a chance to do a mock trial,” Continuing Education Program Manager Amy Thompson said. “From a parent's perspective – they trust us, UNM Continuing Education, to provide their children a safe learning environment and to give them a peace of mind.”

Over a dozen of these kids cycle through each year, gaining thorough, hands-on experience with the legal system and a career in it. Thompson says there are plenty of benefits kids retain within that jam-packed week. 

“There are several things which inspired us to create the law camp and continue running it. There's education and awareness, interest cultivation, career exploration, life skills development, community engagement and diversity and inclusion,” Thompson said. “Spring break can be a time when learning takes a back seat to leisure activities. Providing education opportunities like our law camp ensures that students continue to engage their minds and learn new things even during breaks from school.”

‘Make Your Case’ establishes a foundation of legal basics through discussions, lessons and a culminating mock trial. In between all of this however, are silly breaks, jokes and games to give youth that spring break experience they signed up for. That’s thanks to the careful planning and dedication of Metropolitan Court Judge and UNM alumnus Frank Sedillo.

“Parents drop their kids off here to learn but also to have fun, so it’s important that we have games to combine them,” Sedillo said.

Throughout the week, Sedillo, who has been at the helm of this course since its inception, helps prepare the kids for their mock trials. Each of the trials (based on real-life cases) allow the kids to play the role of counsel, witness and defendant/plaintiff; there’s opening and closing statements, cross-examination and verdicts. 

Along the way, Sedillo also helps each kid assess their critical thinking and public speaking skills. It’s also a plus they get to make friends, continue learning and explore new interests.

“Providing education opportunities like our law camp ensures that students continue to engage their minds and learn new things even during breaks from school. The youths can learn about law and legal processes and can also help develop critical thinking, problems-solving, and communication skills that are valuable in many aspects of life. The law camp can help nurture and develop their passions,” Thompson said.  

Thompson’s own kids had their turn learning the legal ropes, one of them as young as five under Sedillo’s instruction.

His return to UNM each spring is part of the reason this course is so popular. Thompson estimates that since 2018 alone, even including the virtual option during the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been 200 kids who have gone through law camp.  

Whether or not the child wants to grow up to be a lawyer or not, this camp provides things every well-respected adult citizen should know.

“The law camp can provide the youth with a foundational understanding of the legal system and can empower them to become informed citizens and advocates for justice. The law camp engages youths with their legal rights and responsibilities, fosters a sense of civic duty and encourages active participation in their community,” Thompson said.

All of the enjoyment and learning come together on the last day of the camp, at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse. Judge Sedillo hosts parents and the spring breakers in his courtroom, making the experience even more real.

“My favorite part of the camp is the mock trial day. All the students dress nice and try their best to win the case. The commitment and dedication from each student touches my heart. Sometimes, I do believe some of them will be great lawyers one day in the future,” Thompson said. “This is a great opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the students by providing them with valuable education, skills, inspiration and a sense of community.”

No matter who wins the case, it’s a win for the students, the future legal system and everyone involved.  

“These kids are the light at the end of the tunnel. I hope in some way, the support we provide for them turned on a light and flipped a switch in their brains that helps them believe and know they can do anything they want to do…and it doesn’t have to be a lawyer,” Judge Sedillo said.