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Thurgood Marshall Academy, Washington, D.C.’s first law-themed public charter high school, was founded in 2001 in the economically disadvantaged neighborhood of Anacostia. Clifford Chance’s D.C. office has been involved with the academy since its inception as part of the firm’s overall commitment to improving the communities in which we live and work. The idea for the school grew out of the experiences of law students and professors in the D.C. street law clinical program at Georgetown University Law Center. While working with members of the community, law center members witnessed firsthand the lack of academic opportunities that existed and felt that infusing an educational program with legal principles as teaching tools would create an environment in which students could succeed both intellectually and as members of a democratic society. Back in 2001, the academy opened its doors in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Anacostia with just 80 ninth-grade students. The school offered vulnerable inner-city youth an opportunity to receive a first-class education. Each year a grade was added, until 2004, when the academy grew to serve grades 9-12. Although classes cover a wide variety of subjects, the study of law and the search for justice are constants in each classroom. The goal of the academy is to instill students with the skills lawyers possess — the ability to solve problems, think critically, and advocate persuasively for themselves and their communities. Clifford Chance was an early supporter of the academy. Shortly after the school opened, a team of attorneys and staff joined forces with the founders of the academy to help paint the school’s classrooms before the first school year began. Since then, the relationship between Clifford Chance and Thurgood Marshall Academy has expanded and deepened, thanks in large part to the bonds that developed as a result of the creation of the Clifford Chance tutoring program. In fact, a number of members of the D.C. office, from attorneys to business service employees, are involved with the school in some way. In late 2001, the firm established an after-school tutoring program with the school’s first freshman class that continues today. Every week during the school year, students from the academy board a bus and travel to Clifford Chance’s D.C. office. The students are tutored by volunteer attorneys and staff and have dinner at the office. The goal of the program is to increase each student’s level of academic achievement by improving grades, test scores, and school attendance, while allowing them to build strong relationships with adult mentors. The program began with 18 freshmen. Each week the volunteers saw that progress had been made, not only academically but also personally. They could see each of the young adults involved with the program grow as a person. As the sessions continued, the relationships that were formed between tutor and student continued to strengthen. Clifford Chance volunteers remained committed to their students, tutoring the same 18 young men and women over the entire course of their four years at the school. The firm also found other ways to strengthen the tutoring program. In 2006, Clifford Chance endowed the academy with a fellowship that provides a program coordinator for the after-school tutoring program. The coordinator handles program planning, review, and improvement, as well as coordinating logistics for students working with Clifford Chance and other law firms in the area. With the financial support of numerous donors, including Clifford Chance, the academy found a new home in historic Anacostia in 2005. The newly renovated, state-of-the-art building has 13 wired classrooms, all-purpose science labs, a library that can hold 10,000 volumes, an outdoor classroom, and a moot courtroom. GRADUATION DAY In June 2005, several members of the Washington office who had been participating in the tutoring program attended Thurgood Marshall Academy’s first graduation and watched all 18 of the students they tutored over the course of their four years receive their diplomas. Although the average graduation rate for the D.C. area in 2004 was 68.2 percent, the academy saw 100 percent of its students graduate. In addition, every one of its students was accepted into college, in stark contrast to the Anacostia neighborhood, the home of most academy students, where just 8 percent of adults hold a college degree. This was not an isolated achievement, however, as Thurgood Marshall Academy’s 2006 graduating class also had a 100 percent graduation rate and a 100 percent college acceptance rate. As an outgrowth of the tutoring program’s success, Clifford Chance’s involvement with the school’s students has expanded into a variety of new areas. Last December the firm hosted a college prep session for seniors, in which 11 students visited the firm’s office and spent time with volunteers. A short presentation on what the students should expect in the coming year was followed by a group discussion about the college application process. After the initial session, volunteers were assigned a student, with whom they kept in contact throughout the school year. Volunteers assisted the students with various applications, answered questions, and provided emotional support as students waited anxiously to learn whether they would be accepted into the school of their choice. The firm also hosts an annual “law day” for the academy’s ninth-grade students. The workshop, which is hosted at Clifford Chance’s office, was created in an effort to familiarize the students with the U.S. legal system through mock trials, roundtable discussions, and interactive case studies. Law day also covers a variety of legal topics. Previous issues included desegregation, civil rights and discrimination, gang laws, the First Amendment, Japanese-American internment, and the death penalty. During the summers of 2004 and 2005, the firm sponsored internships for a number of academy students at the firm. In addition, when a 2005 graduate was displaced during his first academic semester at college due to Hurricane Katrina, the firm stepped in and created a paid intern position at the firm for him. Clifford Chance also provides the school with significant financial support. In 2005, the firm initiated a series of fund-raising events, including a “jeans day” to raise money for the academy. Attorneys and staff who made a donation were free to wear casual clothing in the office that day. The proceeds were used to set up a scholarship fund in memory of the late Clifford Chance D.C. office manager Carter Forrester, who was instrumental in establishing the firm’s relationship with the academy, as well as the late D.C. information technology manager Ron Andrews. The Carter Forrester and Ron Andrews Memorial Scholarship distributes money to Thurgood Marshall Academy graduates, helping them pay for college tuition or purchase books, computers, and other supplies for college. The firm is also a fixture at the school’s annual fund-raising event, the Shining Star Gala. For the past seven years, Clifford Chance has helped organize and solicit contributions for the galas. In 2003, the firm contributed $15,000 and raised its contribution to $25,000 a year in 2004, 2005, and 2006. In 2006, the gala raised more than $250,000 to support student achievement. Other law firms in D.C. that do volunteer tutoring include Vinson & Elkins; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; Jenner & Block; Crowell & Moring; and Miller & Chevalier, notes Joshua Kern, co-founder and president of the academy. Thurgood Marshall Academy’s board of trustees invited Clifford Chance to become part of its leadership staff, and in 2004, I joined the board as a representative of the firm. In addition to this honor, the school named a classroom on behalf of Clifford Chance this past March. In memory of Clifford Chance employees Forrester and Andrews, the classroom was named in honor of Marian Wright Edelman, the founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund and the first African-American woman admitted to the Mississippi State Bar. We at Clifford Chance truly value the relationship we have with Thurgood Marshall Academy and its students. These children, with whom we interact each week, teach us just as much as we teach them. They live in such close proximity to our office in Washington but have life experiences so vastly different from our own. To be given the chance to help enrich their lives and build our community is a gift. And we look forward to working with the academy for many years to come.
Leiv Blad, managing partner of Clifford Chance’s D.C. office, has litigated a broad range of complex class action and multiparty disputes for the firm. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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