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Alan Vollmann is back at school. Never mind that he has already earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Irvine, a master’s degree in education from San Francisco State University, and a law degree from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. This fall, for the second year in a row, the real estate partner at the Washington, D.C., office of Holland & Knight will get up early every morning and get to D.C.’s Banneker High School, near Howard University, by 7:45 to teach Latin to a small band of students. Vollmann says his Banneker students tease him about his moonlighting. Last year, he says, they told him, “We know you’re having more fun here than at the law office.” And Vollmann agrees. “I do have fun practicing the law, but not like I do with the kids,” he says. The students are getting something out of it, too. With the support of Vollmann and Banneker’s full-time Latin teacher, Robert Johnson, all of the school’s Latin students won awards last school year in either the National Latin Exam or the Medusa Mythology Exam. They also surprised Vollmann by going him one better on his challenge to recite Virgil’s epic “The Aeneid” in Latin to other members of the class. On a day when Vollmann was absent, the students stood in front of an assembly of the entire student body, recited a chunk of the poem, and sent a videotape on to Vollmann. “It just made my day,” he gushes. When it comes to Virgil, Latin and high school students, Vollmann tends to get emotional. Especially when the topic is “The Aeneid,” a poem based on “The Iliad of Homer,” where Aeneas, the well-traveled son of the goddess Aphrodite, escapes the sack of Troy, falls in love with Queen Dido, and eventually goes to Italy, where his descendants found the city of Rome. “The beauty of Virgil is that Virgil took Homer and made one-dimensional superheroes into real human beings you can identify with,” says Vollmann. “Virgil’s characters cry, laugh, fall in love, and they talk about it.” Learning Latin, Vollmann tells his students, is akin to learning a new musical instrument: It communicates ideas that English just cannot. As for Vollmann’s own odyssey, he was a public school teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area before becoming a lawyer. But he says after he witnessed political changes that reduced support for public schools in California, he saw little future in the profession. He says he was also tiring of teaching disinterested students who had no aspirations for college. He went into real estate in California, saved enough money for law school, and enrolled at the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America, graduating in 1980. But after practicing law for two decades, and teaching law and real estate at the college level, Vollmann began to miss teaching high school kids. “I loved teaching so much,” he says. “Teaching is one of the most creative professions.” He turned to Henry Brothers II, a D.C. real estate partner at the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation Inc. who was involved with D.C. schools, and Brothers put him in touch with Annie Mair, principal at Cleveland Elementary School in Washington, D.C. Cleveland is a school “sponsored” by Holland & Knight, meaning that the D.C. office of the firm offers tutoring, textbooks, and other support to students at the school. Through that connection, Vollmann eventually met Banneker’s principal, Patricia Tucker. As a result, you can find Vollmann every morning teaching Latin to kids who have agreed to arrive an hour early at Banneker, now also sponsored by Holland & Knight, just to learn the classics. The job comes with all of the upside of teaching — “Smart kids take Latin,” Vollmann declares — and he says he still dreams about teaching full time. But long before school lets out he is back in his downtown law office. Vollman contends that lawyers, like his students, could use a little knowledge of Roman traditions. After all, he says, “The Romans invented civil law.” But after spending the morning with the ancient language, he doesn’t want to see Latin while at Holland & Knight. In fact, he explains that he strikes Latin phrases from drafts of briefs written by associates because he thinks such phrases are overused. “Lawyers always use Latin when they write. I never use Latin when I write,” he says. “Get rid of the Latin. We speak in English.” Jennifer Liebman is senior journalism major at American University and was a summer intern at Legal Times.

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