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It’s Academic (102973)

Youth, say the sages, must be served — and who better to serve young students than young lawyers≠

Especially when the students are part of Law Academy, a citywide magnet program for about 300 of Baltimore’s most determined public high school students.

Teacher Dan Pierce joins students in mock court at Lake Clifton High School’s Law Academy. Acting as judges are eleventh-graders Kenneth Flight and TiShaun Chase, with LaTasha Booker appearing as a witness.

Tonight, the Maryland State Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section will raise money for Law Academy (officially, the Lake Clifton-Eastern High School Law-Related Education Program) at the section’s 11th annual Novemberfest.

“It’s important that the MSBA, and especially the Young Lawyers, recognize we have a duty to the community,” said Ruth-Ann Lane, who (with Gwendolyn S. Lubbert) heads the YLS committee putting together tonight’s gala. “It’s important to disadvantaged children that we give them a leg up.”

Enter Kathleen Floyd, head of the Law Academy and two similar programs at Lake Clifton.

When Floyd approached the YLS to ask for its support, the young lawyers were so taken with the idea they designated Law Academy their “adopted charity” for the year.

Talk to a few of the teen-agers in the program, and it’s easy to see why.

“I want to be successful,” said 11th-grader Latasha Booker. “I’m going to be the first in my family to go to college. I don’t want to settle for just enough; I want to go beyond.”

Booker’s voice filled with enthusiasm when she talked about her Law Academy classes.

“I didn’t know that if you walked into a store and ate something, that was shoplifting,” Booker said. “I thought you could eat, so long as you didn’t put it in your pocket.”

Eleventh-grader Kenneth Flight also found Law Academy to be an eye-opener — especially the law dealing with those little white lines at street corners.

“The things you thought were not significant can be surprising,” Flight said. “I thought it didn’t matter how you crossed the street — I thought it was the person’s fault who hit you.”

Flight hopes to become a prosecutor.

“My parents said I should go into law, since I like to argue and get my point across,” he said.

TiShaun Chase, another 11th-grader, apparently chose her career path in kindergarten.

“Ever since I was 5, I said I wanted to be a lawyer,” she said. “I looked up to Thurgood Marshall.”

Chase developed a fondness for corporate and civil law after working as a summer intern at Niles, Barton and Wilmer in Baltimore, where she did legal research.

She’s “just received a phone call” from a university in Florida, which she might attend, but also has her eye on Temple University. “And for graduate [school], I want to go to Harvard or Yale.”

All three youngsters admire Law Academy teacher Corey Jones; as one said, “we look up to him. He came from the same place we are right now, and he made something of himself.”Poor cousin

As a high school student, Jones took the curriculum that became formalized into Law Academy and went on to graduate from Frostburg State University.

Law Academy began as senior-elective courses in the 1970s and grew into a formal program in 1987. It is one of five academies in Baltimore schools. Three — in law, finance and information technology — are at Lake Clifton, while Southwestern High School is home to academies in pre-nursing and travel, tourism and hospitality.

With about 325 students, Law Academy is the largest, Floyd said. Pre-nursing, which was created last year, is the smallest with about 50 students.

The Academy of Travel, Tourism and Hospitality started in 1994. Unlike the law program, it has found strong financial backing, and in June of this year it received more than $110,000 from an estimated 600 patrons who attended a fundraiser at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel.

The law program never has enjoyed such backing.

“This is our first fundraiser for the law program,” Floyd said. “We are excited about it.”

YLS Chairman Brian Zemil put it more bluntly.

“Law Academy had nothing of a budget,” Zemil said. “They were the poor cousin.”

In July, YLS collected 25 boxes of supplies, such as paper clips, staples, notebooks, half-used pens and pencils, and old binders.

“We asked law firms to open their desk drawers and empty them into the box,” Zemil said.

Some donations wouldn’t quite fit into the box — such as the five personal computers donated by the firm of McCarter and English, and the Apple computer Zemil donated.

“Most of our students don’t have computers at home,” Floyd said, “and this was the first time we could assign computerized legal research.”

Attorney Michael Stover, chairman-elect of the YLS and a member of Law Academy’s board, explained why he has volunteered his services at the academy for going on three years.

“It’s like a miracle,” Stover said. “They are getting great results.”Better odds

Graduation rates run as low as 20 percent for Baltimore’s inner-city students who do not participate in special programs such as the academies, The Wall Street Journal wrote last May.

Lake Clifton’s Floyd recently contrasted this dismal picture with what her students do.

YLS chairman Brian A. Zemil joins Gwendloyn S. Lubbert, left, and Ruth-Ann Lane, who head the activities committee that planned tonight’s Novemberfest gala.

About 80 percent who start the academies’ four-year programs finish, Floyd said, and the vast majority of them go on to even greater success.

“Over 90 percent of our [academy] graduates go on to college,” Floyd said, “and in the law program it’s even higher — about 98 percent go on.”

Recent reports show half of those admitted to college from the 1990 and 1995 classes graduated, Floyd said. “They are graduating from college, and that’s pretty heartening.”

Students enrolled in the Law Academy take the usual high school courses but go beyond the basics and take law-related classes.

Many students are in the program for the full four years, and some participate in moot court or work as interns in law firms, prosecutors’ or public defenders’ offices. Others serve on Teen Court, where youthful offenders are represented and judged by their peers, and still others compete in mock trial competitions sponsored by the Maryland State Bar Association and the Citizenship, Law-Related Education Programs of Maryland.

“The big goal is to keep them interested in school,” Zemil said, “and focus on an opportunity in the future.”

This marks the 11th year the Young Lawyers Section has sponsored Novemberfest, but the first time the fundraiser will benefit the magnet program, commonly called Law Academy.

Recent beneficiaries include Lifesongs for AIDS, Hands on Baltimore and the William S. Baer School for Special Needs Children. The fun
ction raised more than $4,000 last year for Family Tree, a nonprofit organization that works to strengthen families.

YLS immediate past chairman David C. Merkin described the effort that goes into organizing such an event as “a full-time job that in the end is worth it.”Only the beginning≠

Novemberfest proceeds will be donated later this year at a holiday party. The money will help pay for field trips to places such as the State House and courthouses, organizers said, and will help the kids pay for the business attire — dress shirts, ties, sports coats, dresses or blouses — the students must wear to school one day a week.

The money also will help sponsor a “job fair,” where the students can develop such skills as writing a résumé and interviewing for a job.

It also will help students pay the fees associated with taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test and applying to colleges.

Floyd and YLS leaders hope this year is only the beginning of a long relationship between Law Academy and Maryland lawyers, and Floyd said she needs mentors to work with the students and sponsors to hire them as summer interns.

But the YLS is likely to adopt a different charity next year, Zemil said, because the group’s 5,500 members come from across the state — the largest constituencies come from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties — and their communities also have worthy charities.

“Baltimore City may have the greatest needs,” said Zemil, “but we are mindful that others have needs across the state.”