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On the morning of Friday, Aug. 20, a flock of 140 new law students visited the workaday ruckus of Manhattan’s city and state courtrooms — Step One of their orientation to the City University of New York School of Law. Step Two was an afternoon’s lively reflection, conducted in the ceremonial courtroom of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District. Professor Jenny Rivera debriefed the students — drawn to CUNY Law for its curriculum emphasizing government service and poverty law — in what she called a “visualization” exercise. She asked them to close their eyes and recall what most had witnessed for the first time in their lives. Impressions, please, asked Rivera, beginning with the litigants themselves, as observed in Housing, Family and Supreme courts. “Frustration,” said a closed-eyed student. “Fear,” said another. “Defeat. Humiliation.” How about the judges? “Bored. Reading a script. Very kind.” Attorneys? “They made a lot of errors in motions … It appears they don’t have any feelings for their clients.” That struck an apprehensive chord in student Karen Gargamelli, 23, who said she was “terrified” that idealism could be lost in the sometimes heartbreaking grind of public service law. “It takes a radical kind of love,” she said, “to progress the law and society.” Rivera, along with Dean Kristin Booth Glen and Southern District Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis, responded by encouraging the CUNY Law Class of 2007 to study hard, find ways to overcome career burnout and, above all, to keep the faith. As public interest lawyers, said Rivera, “You’re going to feel a little cheated all the time. You’ll find yourselves saying, ‘Oh, if I just had a couple of more hours to help my client.’ You have to deal with that anxiety. “I expect a lot of you,” she added, “but not as much as you expect of yourselves.” Expectations were recited in a unique pledge of lawyerly responsibility administered to the students by Judge Ellis. Dean Glen challenged the class of ’07, most of whom will eventually represent the weak against the strong, to be aware of pressures to come — on both a campus nationally renowned for its racial and ethnic diversity as well as in the courtroom. “On a really bad day, I hope that you remember three words,” said Glen. “Rigor, respect and generosity. “It isn’t enough for you to be good, to just get by,” she said. “Because the forces on the other side are very powerful and very heavily resourced.” As a means of present and future support, the dean added, “We’re a community here, way more than any law school I know. But like other families, we have quarrels. But we strive, and we care about each other. We’re all in this to use the powerful tool of the law to make the world a better place.” Judge Ellis warned the CUNY Law students that they were unlikely to be broadly admired by the public. “But democracy is great not just because the majority prevails,” said the judge, quoting from the late Adlai Stevenson, a two-time candidate for president half a century ago, “but because it is safe to be in the minority.” As a former director of the Poverty and Justice Program at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Judge Ellis told the students, “I was accused of being a social engineer — and I was. You will be, too, and you should not shrink from that … You’ll be our standard-bearer. You’ll make it safe to be in the minority.” During the earlier visualization exercise, one student said she “felt lucky not to have any legal problems.” But so many people do, Judge Ellis reminded the students. Especially people not skilled at speaking up for themselves. As public service lawyers, he said, “You know that justice may be blind, but you can make sure she’s not deaf.”

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