What is Civil Law?

By Millie Aulbur
Director of Citizenship Education
The Missouri Bar

Click here to download the lesson plan.

In addition, teachers are encouraged to include the following lesson plans:

The purpose of this booklet is to assist teachers in instructing their students about civil law. The fundamentals of civil law are an often overlooked subject in law-related education programs for two reasons: 1) Criminal law is the darling of newspapers, television shows, and movies because criminal cases lend themselves to high drama more than civil cases. 2) The scope of civil law is enormous and teaching about it can appear to be a daunting task. However, students should be introduced to civil law because that is the area of the law they are most likely to encounter. For example, most of you students will someday obtain a driver’s license, title a home, get married, or make a will.

After this introduction, there is a section on how to use this booklet in the classroom. These guidelines are followed by simple explanations of civil law that can be copied as handouts for students. (Teachers may want to consider asking an attorney to speak to the class about civil law. Teachers should provide the handouts to the attorney who will appreciate the guidelines for the presentation.) The introductory pages are followed by 39 case scenarios gleaned from actual Missouri cases that can be used for short mock-hearings or adapted to longer mock trials. If teachers wish to adapt the cases to longer mock trial, the attached appendix provides information about conducting a mock civil trial. The actual case decisions with citations are located at the end of the case scenarios. The names in the cases have been changed, and the fact patterns have been shortened for convenience.

This booklet about civil trials was inspired by a similar book compiled and published by the New York State Bar Association and the New York Education Department. For several years, they were gracious enough to allow The Missouri Bar to use and distribute their booklet. In 2001, Kerry Vining a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law, interned with The Missouri Bar and spent many hours finding interesting Missouri civil law cases. In 2010, Megan L. Dittmann, another law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law and a former high school teacher, clerked at The Missouri Bar and updated the booklet to include recent Missouri court decisions. Through their efforts, it is possible for us to have this booklet using noteworthy Missouri cases.

The Missouri Bar is grateful for its long-time partnership with Missouri’s teachers. The Missouri Bar, through its Advisory Committee for Citizenship Education, promotes law-related education in Missouri’s classroom. For that reason, any and all copies of this booklet may be copied and reproduced for classroom or in-service use. Teachers may also want to request The Missouri Bar’s publication, Turning 18: Some Things about the Law You Need to Know, which is designed to inform young people about the legal issues they may face as they go from being a teenager to being an adult. Please contact Millie Aulbur if you have questions or requests at The Missouri Bar, P.O. Box 119, Jefferson City, MO 65102, (573) 638-2250, millea@mobar.org.