California Bar Journal
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


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Front Page - November 2001
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News / News Briefs
Applicants sought to oversee bar's diversion program
Let's have another cup of - legal advice
Foundation leads students to capital
Six honored for professional service
Warwick, six others named to California Judicial Council
Several thousand lawyers suspended for failing to pay dues, certify MCLE
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Trials Digest
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From the President - Remembering the fallen
The rule of law is our strongest weapon
Pro bono work is lawyers' duty
Letters to the Editor
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Law Practice - Success: The top eight requirements
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You Need to Know
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MCLE Self-Study
Planning for education expenses
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Ethics Byte - Lawyers move on in usual way despite disaster
Former city councilman spent his son's settlement
Attorney Discipline
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Public Comment
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Continued from Page 1
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Avanti Ghanekar, a senior at San Jose's Lynbrook High School, hopes to attend Harvard some day and eventually practice cyberlaw.
"Avanti Ghanekar of Lynbrook High School
in San Jose"

"Here we are in the legislature, but who gets to ultimately decide whether or not the term limits law, passed by the people of California, is constitutional?" he asked.

Several students spoke out in unison: "The judiciary."

Liebert went on, asking the high schoolers what they know about secret settlements. "Product recall?" said one.

"Firestone?" asked another. Liebert described pending legislation which would do away with secret settlements, "a really huge issue in California right now."

Later, across the street, the students sat in rapt attention in the ornately carved, wood paneled Third District Court of Appeal, listening to Burt Pines, the governor's judicial appointments secretary, and Pauline Weaver, chair of the State Bar's Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation (JNE). They explained what it takes to be a judge and explained how judges are selected for appointment. "We're looking for the best and the brightest," said Pines. "And we're looking for diversity - not just of gender or race but of background."

Pines could have been describing his audience, many of whom want to be judges or lawyers. The gifted group are the first participants in the Legal Heritage Institute, a program sponsored by the Foundation of the State Bar to introduce students to lawyers, judges and the law. Selected on the basis of a statewide contest, each applicant submitted a 1,000-word essay on "The Law: My Rights and Responsibilities."

The winners were rewarded with an all-expenses-paid, activity-packed week of meeting with judges and lawyers. Each student received a scholarship ranging from $1,000 to $4,000 and their schools received $1,000. The foundation underwrites the new program with $80,000.

In addition to two days in Sacramento, participants visited historic northern California sites in the gold country, toured courthouses and met with former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso and Justice Art Scotland, presiding judge of the Third District Court of Appeal. "Read, read, read and write, write, write," Scotland advised the youngsters.

The foundation launched the program with the help of retired teacher and former high school and college football coach Edwin Sowash, a Windsor resident, who traveled the state seeking a mix of schools to participate in the first-time effort. "I went where I knew people, where I had personal contacts," said Sowash. "I wanted to make sure to include Santee High School to help somewhat mitigate the effects of this year's shootings there."

Sowash contacted 49 schools and collected 39 essays, which were reviewed by a program committee and whittled down to the final 16.

The students' sometimes weighty and erudite perspectives on the law and legal issues belied their years as they wrote more like college students rather than the high school seniors they are this fall. They touched on topics ranging from the Code of Hammurabi to the Mayflower Pact to Thoreau's Civil Disobedience.

Okasana Ivashchenko of Nevada Union High School in Auburn compared the American jury system with jury selection in her native Russia, where only professional business people are called to serve. Avanti Ghanekar of San Jose's Lynbrook High School contrasted the poverty of her native India to the bounty of the United States and warned that Americans should not take their advantages for granted in an essay entitled, "Obligations of the Individual."

The week in Sacramento at the end of July reinforced most of the students' desire to become lawyers. "I have always wanted to be a lawyer as long as I can remember," said Ivanshchenko, who works at a law office. "Eventually, I aspire to become a judge though. This week I had the honor to meet great lawyers and judges who were so kind to take the time out of their busy schedules."

Ghanekar agreed that because of the program, "I am definitely more inclined to become a lawyer or a judge because I heard from people who seemed to enjoy their career and found it worthwhile." The San Jose resident plans to go into engineering, product patent or cyberlaw. "I hope to go to Harvard Law School in the future because it is important to establish yourself in the law profession by making a good impression," he said.

Julia Lauper, a student at Lincoln High School in Stockton, wants to follow in the footsteps of her father, a San Joaquin County public defender. "After this program, I am more interested in the profession - partly because I am more aware of the flaws of the legal profession and the problems that need solutions," she said. Lauper plans to major in molecular biology with a minor in classics or political science before entering law school.

The Legal Heritage Institute was the brainchild of foundation executive director James Pfeiffer, who said the foundation has been awarding scholarships since 1992, but mostly for students entering or attending law school. He wanted to develop a program for high school students that combines California history and political science from a legal perspective. After two years of planning, Pfeiffer submitted a proposal to the California Department of Education in October and received its blessing in January.

"We're excited that it's a high school program," Pfeiffer said. "There are plenty of programs that support mathematics and the natural sciences. Our new effort is a splendid program which covers the humanities, social sciences and the law." Pfeiffer and Sowash plan to expand the program to include more of California's high schools.

Both men hope this year's participants take to heart Drew Liebert's parting advice: "Expose yourself to the possibility of doing something remarkable. It doesn't matter what your politics are. It matters what your commitment is."