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Each Tuesday evening, a yellow bus chugs down K Street amid the first wave of rush-hour traffic. Through the windows you can hear the teasing and laughter of nearly 15 Southeast high school students. Wearing backpacks and identical collared maroon shirts, they emerge onto the downtown D.C. street in front of Clifford Chance. The firm provides the school bus, the lawyers to individually tutor the students, and, of course, the pizza. The firm and the students are both part of a fledgling law-related charter school in Southeast Washington called Thurgood Marshall Academy. “I’m getting me some learning for real,” says one 10th grade girl who recently transferred to Thurgood Marshall from her public school. Three years after a handful of 20-somethings from Georgetown University Law Center’s Street Law Clinic presented a written proposal to the D.C. Public Charter School Board, the school is wrapping up its second full academic year. Besides Clifford Chance, several local firms have pitched in to make the education objectives of the school a reality. The firms include Ross, Dixon & Bell; Jenner & Block; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; Fulbright & Jaworski; Williams & Connolly; Leftwich & Douglas; Arnold & Porter; and Sidley Austin Brown & Wood. Attorneys tutor and mentor the students, participate in school events, and serve on the school’s board of trustees. Some firms donated money to cover the high costs of implementing the school’s rigorous academic program. Although the D.C. government provided $10,000 per student, the school had to raise another $5,000 per student. The school is the first law-related charter school in the District, with 102 ninth and 10th graders. According to 28-year-old Director of Programs Katie Rusnak, the school aims to prepare the students for college and to “be aware of their place in a democracy . . . to be comfortable advocating for themselves and their communities.” To achieve this, traditional courses such as English and science emphasize such lawyerly skills as public speaking. The students are exposed to the law via Law Day, a once-a-year occasion when a local firm hosts the students with a curriculum developed by Georgetown University’s Street Law Clinic. The curriculum covers civil rights issues, such as school desegregation, and looks at legal issues that relate to gangs. The students also take law courses as part of their regular curriculum. The sophomore class, for example, studies constitutional law. The students have no shortage of homework to bring with them to Tuesday night tutoring. In one conference room, a 10th grade girl chatters on about Richard III and the First Amendment, while her classmates work on the final projects they must defend in front of a board of parents, school administrators, and others from the D.C. community in order to advance a grade. Progress at the school has not been without its growing pains for both faculty and students. The students say it has taken them a long time to get used to mandatory Saturday morning tutoring, the 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. school days, and the public speaking. For the administrators, Rusnak says, “It was a lot harder than we initially expected.” Rusnak and President and CEO Joshua Kern say that many of their students’ reading and writing skills fall between fourth-grade and seventh-grade levels. Incoming ninth-graders must attend summer school, where they are taught how to better manage their time and prepare for school. Kern says that only half of last year’s class was promoted to 10th grade. “When we first started, we did not expect we’d have to hold back all these students. For many of our students, it’s not going to be a four-year program.” But the students who remain at the academy are enthusiastic and hard-working. Rusnak says the students particularly enjoy going to Clifford Chance. “I get in trouble when we cancel. The students come up to me and say, ‘Why can’t we go to tutoring?’ ” Rusnak says of the few times tutoring was called off. Some students, such as 10th-grader Arthur Smith II, know that they are striding on untraveled ground. Smith recalls when Principal Joseph Feldman came to his middle school to speak: “He said, ‘There’s a new school opening, and you guys will make history being the first class.’ And that’s when I wanted to go to Thurgood Marshall.” Legal Aid Awards. At its 14th annual Servant of Justice Award dinner, the Legal Aid Society honored Covington & Burling partner Peter Nickles and the Public Defender Service. Nickles’ award was presented by D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams. Society Director of Development Heidi Gider says Nickles was chosen for his nearly 30-year history of pro bono work. “He’s this corporate lawyer [who is] sort of like Superman,” Gider says. “He runs into the phone booth, changes, and comes out this public service lawyer and saves the lives of all these [people].” Nickles has worked on cases he likes to call “institutional litigation,” involving prisons and psychiatric institutions, a feat he says requires a lot of staying power. “If we’re privileged to have this license from the community to practice law,” Nickles says, “we owe it to address the problems of the poor.” As in past years, the Legal Aid Society honored one individual and one organization. Executive Director Ronald Sullivan accepted the award on behalf of the Public Defender Service. The PDS is an independent legal aid group that has served the District for more than 30 years. About 90 percent of those arrested and hit with criminal charges are eligible for its services. The organization handles about 1,000 cases a year. The PDS earned the award for the “sheer volume and sincerity in which they do their work,” Gider says. She also notes that without the group’s assistance, its clients “would not have equal footing in the courtroom.” “We were thrilled,” says PDS Deputy Director Avis Buchanan, adding that the group was also grateful for those who donated money for roughly 30 staff members to attend. Tickets to the event, held in April at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown, cost $350 per person. Almost 400 people attended. Gider says she’s still receiving contributions from people who couldn’t make it. “It speaks volumes for legal aid,” Gider says. Supporters “still want to honor these people even though they were unable to attend.” Pro Bono for a Day. For lawyers who want to do pro bono work, but can’t spend months on a case, the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition offers a solution. The coalition recruits attorneys for one-day jail visits and interviews for asylum. The coalition visits four Virginia jails each month to field questions and conduct “know your rights” presentations to inmates pending deportation by the Department of Homeland Security. The coalition is contacted when undocumented immigrants arrive at area airports and express a fear of returning to their home country. With two days’ notice, the coalition tracks down one lawyer to represent the individual at an interview to determine whether or not the fear is “credible,” and another attorney if an asylum hearing is necessary. “You can still get very involved in an individual’s case and still get client contact, but you don’t have to stay with it for months,” says Julie Lehnhoff, a coalition staff attorney. The jail visits include informal training on the ride to the jail. The coalition also hosts lunches at firms and provides in-depth training at the D.C. Bar. 2002 Honorees. The D.C. Circuit Judicial Conference honored D.C.’s Asbill Moffitt & Boss; Arnold & Porter; Covington & Burling; Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering; and the D.C. offices of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson; Jenner & Block; Latham & Watkins; and Piper Rudnick for their 2002 pro bono work. This is the first time the conference’s pro bono committee has honored firms and attorneys who have fulfilled its 1998 resolution that all attorneys admitted to practice in the District devote 50 hours to pro bono work each year. Committee Chairwoman Katherine Garrett of D.C.’s Wind & Garrett, a mediation and employment law litigation firm, says the committee and judges hope to see the number of qualified firms double. “Pro Bono Bulletin Board” appears on the first Monday of every month. Alicia Upano can be reached at [email protected]. Next column: July 7.

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