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Their heroes are the giants of American civil rights activism from their parents’ generation: such titans as Justice Thurgood Marshall, Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King Jr. and Barbara Jordan. So, just about the last person in the world that Elise C. Boddie and Hector O. Villagra imagined themselves calling The Boss would be a guy like Peter Cobb, a white 57-year-old tax attorney who pulls down a brisk salary at a large blue-chip law firm. “Well, that’s all right,” said Cobb, with an unruffled laugh. The managing partner of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson added, “I guess there was a time in my life when I couldn’t have imagined working for a guy like me either. “It just shows you that worlds are closer together than some people think they are.” Boddie and Villagra — deeply committed social justice lawyers, thanks to unique fellowships offered by Fried Frank — now concede the point to Cobb. And happily so. “I wanted to do civil rights work, and I just didn’t even want to even set foot on the ‘other side,’ ” admitted Villagra, 33, a Californian who began his activism with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund in New York. “ That was na�vet� on my part, and a lot of ideological fervor. It’s a complete reversal now for me.” Likewise, Boddie’s head was turned. “I really had not expected to be at a Wall Street firm — and quite honestly, not at Fried Frank,” said the 32-year-old Texas native. “I’d not heard it was a particularly hospitable place for black attorneys. They’ve certainly turned that image around for me. “My eyes are open to the benefits of practicing law in a private, corporate firm,” Boddie said. “In fact, I have become a better civil rights lawyer for having had the experience of working with the attorneys at Fried Frank.” This is the deal for Villagra and Boddie: � Spend two years at Fried Frank at the customary associate salary, then two more years as staff attorneys at the firm’s longtime pro bono beneficiaries — the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF); � During their two years with the firm, MALDEF and LDF fellows have a minimum 20-80 percent split in pro bono and billable assignments, respectively; � Fellows are paid the prevailing salaries of first- and second-year associates while at Fried Frank, and the prevailing staff salaries while at the civil rights agencies; � On successful completion of the four-year program, LDF and MALDEF fellows are invited to rejoin Fried Frank at full seniority — with all time credited toward partnership track. Or they may elect to remain in the civil rights arena, in accordance with the needs of LDF and MALDEF. FIRST FELLOW Villagra is the first fellow in the pioneering program. He litigates for MALDEF in his hometown of Los Angeles, although he pursued both his undergraduate and juris doctor degrees at Columbia University. Very soon he will have to make a decision on the next step in his career. “I feel a very strong pull to go back to Fried Frank,” Villagra said. “I feel a lot of loyalty, especially in terms of the partners and senior associates who went out of their way to bring me along, who challenged me, and gave me good assignments.” He singled out partners Ira S. Sacks, Douglas H. Flaum and Stephanie J. Goldstein as especially strong influences. “I knew I was learning at the time — in preparation, in drafting complaints, improving my brief writing,” Villagra said. “But it wasn’t until I got to MALDEF that I realized how I was falling back on things I’d done at the firm, or seen other people do as they puzzled through cases, debated issues in meetings and made decisions. “The challenges came in my billable assignments as well as my pro bono work,” he said. “I remember Ira Sacks had this binder, with exhibits attached and a tabbing system for anticipated questions. That’s the model I use now.” While Villagra and Boddie are poised to become the first “graduates”of the fellowship program, there are five more fellows on deck: two under LDF auspices and three with MALDEF. CAMPUS LEADER As an undergraduate at Yale University, Boddie became a leader in the campus Black Student Alliance. As such, she pressured Yale’s administration on racial diversification of the faculty and divestiture of stock holdings in South Africa in the time of apartheid. An urban affairs fellowship brought her to work in New York for former Mayor Dinkins, which sparked her interest in law. She earned her J.D. in 1996 at Harvard Law School. “I had always admired the Legal Defense Fund,” Boddie said. “I can say for sure that the work the lawyers have done here is directly responsible for the opportunities I’ve had.” Now as a part of the LDF team, Boddie has two major cases on her plate: an employment discrimination suit against the Eglin Air Force Base in Valparaiso, Fla., and a defense of the University of Georgia’s affirmative action policies. “I view my time at Fried Frank as having given me the opportunity to learn the practice of litigation from people who are very skilled and experienced,” Boddie said. “I can take that with me when I practice civil rights law. “There is a place where legal organizations in service to different interests can come together and, through a mutually beneficial relationship, further social justice,” she said, echoing Cobb’s notion. “The fellowship is that place.” DOUBTS AT FIRST But when the fellowship idea was first proposed — by Cobb, along with Fried Frank partner Joseph A. Stern and retired partner Robert H. Preiskel — there were doubters. Most prominent of these was Theodore M. Shaw. “Yes, I was skeptical,” said Shaw, associate director-counsel for the LDF. “It’s already hard enough for African-Americans to successfully negotiate the partnership track at law firms. Now comes a firm that’s low on African-American lawyers, which is not atypical of blue-chip firms — and well, we thought, What’s in it for us? “If you take an African-American lawyer out of the firm, there’s the loss of mentorship — and then it’s all that much harder,” he said. “Then there’s the salary issue. The big firms pay first-years these obscene salaries, then the LDF pay is like stepping off a cliff. “But we talked about it and talked about it. I remember having very candid conversations with Peter [Cobb], and others at the firm,” said Shaw, 46. “We concluded that we should give it a try. We would have the opportunity of gaining some top-shelf legal talent, which we always have here, but we would get that additional resource — the big firm training. “If I were asked about doing this again on a blank slate, I’d be just as skeptical. But as I look at it now, it’s a success by any measure for us,” said Shaw. “And I hope the firm finds it successful.” YOUNG ATTORNEYS Antonia Hernandez, president and national counsel for MALDEF, said the Fried Frank program “provides our organization an invaluable source of young, hardworking attorneys [who] make a lasting contribution to the Latino community, regardless of whether they choose law firm or nonprofit legal practice after the fellowship is over.” What gains from the bargain accrue to Fried Frank? “In the long run, we hope the fellowships will attract people who will become partners and senior associates at our firm — and who maintain public service and social justice interest,” said Cobb. “We have a long tradition of supporting both MALDEF and the LDF.” Stern is a current member of the MALDEF board of directors, and Preiskel is a former president of the LDF. Over the years, said Cobb, other Fried Frank partners have held board positions at the two agencies. But just who had the idea of offering fellowships — and when? “Any good idea doesn’t come about from just one person,” said Stern. “I don’t know if it was me, or Peter [Cobb] or Bob [Preiskel], but I think we’d all like to take credit for it. From the Fried Frank perspective, we’ve gotten absolutely first-rate associates who otherwise might never have come to us. “Lightning just struck about six years ago,” he said. “It was as natural as that. It’s part of our culture now; it’s part of what we do.”

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