The Verdict is Out

A field trip in the Sociology and Law and Justice classes allowed students to witness cases in the Allegheny County Courthouse.


Rob Greenleaf

Mr. Greenleaf’s Sociology and Law and Justice classes gather inside the courtroom at the Allegheny County Courthouse.

Olivia Shubak, Staff Writer

Just two weeks before Thanksgiving break, students in Mr. Greenleaf’s Sociology and Law and Justice courses had the valuable opportunity to attend a field trip to a civil court in the city of Pittsburgh. The experience may have challenged some students’ preconceptions of courtroom drama, likely owing to favorite crime classics such as Law and Order and Criminal Minds

The bus departed early in the day as other students gathered in their homerooms, and participating students were expected to dress in their best business casual attire to blend with the professional milieu of the courthouse.

Soon after arriving, they were briefed on court etiquette, which included a strict no-phone rule while in the courtroom, and deference to the judge and other court officials. The students were then separated into different groups, each assigned to a courtroom.

“These trips are always exciting because you don’t know what kind of case you’re going to get, students get farmed out to different courtrooms and everybody gets a different flavor,” said Greenleaf. “This time we actually got to watch somebody try to represent themself which was quite interesting.” 

Students had an opportunity to speak with and ask questions of judges and law enforcement officers. This interaction yielded valuable insights into the day-to-day workings of a courtroom and enabled students to tailor this experience to their specific interests. 

Junior Sabrina Malkin felt it was especially helpful in narrowing down career paths, too.

“It served as a great opportunity to see what it would be like to work in a profession related to law or law enforcement,” said Malkin, adding that she herself would never want to be a lawyer after the experience. 

In October, Mr. Greenleaf’s classes were able to attend a similar field trip to criminal court, which was said to be more widely anticipated by students because of the enticing and possibly more dramatic subject of criminal cases. However, senior Zoe Hockinson attended civil court and was enthusiastic about her experience.

“I watched a lot of smaller cases [in civil court]. It was just the early stages of the process, but it was still cool to watch,” Hockinson said.

The field trip signups operated on a first-come-first-served basis, due to the limited number of spots available among multiple classes. But junior Chuck Baker was fortunate to participate in both the criminal and civil court field trips.

“I liked criminal court more because the cases were more hands on,” said Baker.

The experience in Greenleaf’s classes has the distinction of allowing students to observe legal proceedings in a professional realm without censure. Many of the students on the trip shared a similar sentiment that it was a meaningful experience that was also quite enjoyable.

“It was very interesting and a lot of the cases were very memorable,” Baker added.