Lawyers in the [Virtual] Classroom: How a Decades-Old CBA Program Adapted to the Pandemic By Daniel J. Berkowitz, CBA Editorial Board Member A s students all around Chicago have returned to the classroom this fall, whether virtually, in-
only provides opportunities for students to understand the constitution better and how it applies to their lives, it also allows students to consider how they might be able to effect change in their community, state and beyond,” said Watson. The attorney volunteers likewise recog- nized the importance of keeping the pro- gram going. BenjaminT. Kurtz, Partner at Kirkland&Ellis, LLP, who has volunteered since he was a young associate in 2007, recalls “being mentored early on, that no matter how busy I got, I must always take time to give back and make a positive dif- ference in my community.” He sees the LIC program as “a great vessel to do that.” Kurtz found that for many of the students, the attorney volunteers “are the first lawyers they’ve met.” He sees it as a privilege to expose them to “the practice of law as a profession that, at the end of the day, exists to seek justice, right wrongs, and protect rights.” The LIC program exposes students to how lawyers think through and attack problems. “Students come to see that they possess these same critical think- ing skills,” said Kurtz. “The law becomes accessible, and students feel empowered to engage civically, or perhaps even consider a career in law.” Given the importance of the LIC program, all stakeholders were steadfast in seeing it continue. Over the summer, Watson scheduled remote attorney infor- mation training sessions for attorney vol- unteers “to learn about how the program would be administered, how to impart the lessons remotely, where to access remote curriculummaterials for visits and all other valuable information.” She also held a remote school partner information session for new and returning teacher and admin- istrators to provide the same information virtually, “including how they would now be partnering with their attorney/attorney teams prior to and during remote visits.”
The remote LIC program officially launched on September 8, 2020. Accord- ing to Watson, “despite the program’s operational change, attorneys, teachers and school administrators remain engaged and excited to connect with schools and stu- dents just as they have in previous years.” From the attorney volunteer perspec- tive, Kurtz has observed the same level of dedication. He reports that “interest and participation” among the Kirkland & Ellis volunteers “remains as high as ever.” Kurtz states the volunteers are “prepared to take our tried and true lessons to the virtual classroom and expect to have another stel- lar year of engagement.” While Kurtz andWatson both expressed a desire to see the program return to its in-person format as soon as it is safe to do so, they recognized some changes brought about by Covid-19 may be here to stay. Watson, for example, found that pro- viding attorney and school partner infor- mation sessions remotely created “more clarity for all parties involved and allows for more attorney volunteers to become involved and equipped even sooner than previous years.” Additionally, using Google Docs to allow new and returning teacher/ administrator partners to provide their availability for classroom visits online allowed Watson to “more efficiently and quickly connect school partners with attorney volunteers.” Attorneys or teachers interested in vol- unteering with the program should contact Tiffani Watson via email at twatson@ chicagobar.org.
person, or using a hybrid approach, so have the attorney volunteers in the long- running Edward J. Lewis II Lawyers in the Classroom (“LIC”) program. This year, for the first time, the LIC program has gone completely digital, allowing teachers to invite attorneys into their classrooms virtually to teach second-through-eighth- grade students about their rights and responsibilities under the law. The LIC Program—which was first ini- tiated by the Constitutional Rights Foun- dation of Chicago (“CRFC”) in the late 1980s, and transitioned to a CBA program in November 2019, following the closure of CRFC—was disrupted in March, like so many other aspects of our lives. The burden of re-envisioning the program in virtual form fell on LIC Program Director Tiffani M. Watson, M.Ed., herself a former middle and high school teacher and school administrator. “For over 30 years,” explained Watson, “new and returning attorney volunteers were trained on the LIC curriculum and the program’s specifics in-person via attor- ney information and training sessions before the start of the school year.” Those attorney volunteers were then partnered with teachers in classrooms across Chi- cagoland and visited three times over the course of 10-months. At each visit, the attorney volunteers would teach different lessons from the LIC Program curriculum. This year, rather than hold in-person training or schedule in-person classroom visits, Watson used her teaching back- ground and knowledge, to convert the tangible LIC curriculum materials into remote resources for teachers and attorney volunteers to access and use remotely. For her, the programwas too important to wait for a year (or longer): “The program not
Daniel J. Berkowitz is an Assistant Attorney General assigned to the General Law Bureau of the Illinois Office of the Attorney General.