Opening doors

Academic Resource Center celebrates 20 years of realizing dreams

Hozaifa Cassubhi

Hozaifa Cassubhai ’07 is one of the hundreds of success stories that have come out of the Academic Resource Center. Although he struggled to be admitted to law school, he went on to graduate magna cum laude.

Hozaifa Cassubhai applied to law schools across the country 52 times over a three-year period. He took the LSAT five times trying to improve his score.

“In that room, in that pressure-packed environment, I could not perform,” he said. “I was applying everywhere,”

Finally, he heard about Seattle University School of Law’s Alternative Admission Program and Academic Resource Center.

“It was the only school that accepted me, and I was here a month later,” said Cassubhai ’07.

The program, which takes into account more than the standard admission criteria and look also at an applicant’s experience and promise, was exactly what Cassubhai – who before law school worked as a paralegal on airline profiling cases at a civil rights firm in Washington, D.C., and scouted trials to cover for Court TV – needed, and he is a perfect example of the kind of success it engenders.

Cassubhai went on to graduate magna cum laude in May. He served on Law Review, was named the year’s Faculty Scholar and graduation speaker and has already secured a position with Davis Wright Tremaine in Seattle.

“It has been life-altering,” he said of the ARC program that allowed him to attend law school.

Hundreds of other ARC graduates feel the same way, crediting the program and longtime professors Paula Lustbader ’88 and Dave Boerner with their success.

As the Academic Resource Center celebrates its 20th anniversary, it’s been a great opportunity for them to say thank you and for the program to celebrate its graduates, who have gone on to practice public and private law, to serve as judges and clerks and find success in the legal and business fields.

“This program is helping create a more diverse legal field, and I couldn’t be prouder of the work done by Professors Boerner and Lustbader to ensure that these bright and talented students become ethical lawyers working in the service of justice,” Dean Kellye Testy said.

The only law school program of its kind in the region, the Alternative Admission Program allows a number of promising students who don’t meet traditional admission requirements to be admitted to the law school. They attend an intensive seven-week summer program that integrates a traditional Criminal Law course with legal writing and study skills.

Students admitted through the alternative program are supported throughout law school by the Academic Resource Center. ARC’s primary purpose is to help diverse and non-traditional students adjust, succeed and excel in law school. It also contributes to a more diverse legal profession. In the fall, ARC students have access to resources to keep them on track. The center also helps non-ARC law students referred by professors for support.

The ARC program is one of a few of its kind at law schools in the country. Under pressure to raise LSAT scores to move up in the rankings and with the court-ordered weakening or disbanding of affirmative action programs at public schools, some law schools may be abandoning similar programs, Lustbader said.

Seattle University School of Law has made it a priority to continue to provide access to a legal education. That institutional support, along with the generosity of an anonymous benefactor who has established an endowment of more than $4.7 million to provide yearly scholarships for a substantial number of students, ensure the future of the program.

“It’s all about access – access to law school, access to the profession,” Lustbader said.

“This program is helping create a more diverse legal field, and I couldn’t be prouder of the work done by Professors Boerner and Lustbader to ensure that these bright and talented students become ethical lawyers working in the service of justice.” - Dean Kellye Testy said.

The Washington State Bar Association awarded the 2006 Excellence in Diversity to Seattle University School of Law’s programs and professors for their work in creating a more diverse legal community.

Among the graduates is Frank Cuthbertson ’93, a Pierce County Superior Court judge. He had a previous career as a lobbyist and grassroots organizer around poverty issues in Tennessee. He worked for the Tennessee Hunger Coalition, served on the Health Facilities Commission and worked for the governor.

“Those experiences made me want to go to law school to get a theoretical grounding on the issues I was dealing with,” he said. “I was really interested in Seattle University because I was an older student and particularly the ARC was a fit for me as an older student who hadn’t been in school for a while and had another career.”

He started law school at age 37 and ARC did help ensure his success. Lustbader’s emphasis on work product and legal writing helped prepare him for his first summer job with Davis Wright Tremaine, where he worked alongside students from Harvard and other East Coast law schools.

“At first I was a little bit intimidated working by these people from these famous schools, but I had a very successful summer and was invited to work there, and it was largely because of the emphasis Paula placed on learning the conventions, as Paula calls them, of legal writing and research.”

Cuthbertson was appointed to the bench in 2001, after working at Davis Wright Tremaine and Gordon Thomas Honeywell and as counsel for Group Health Cooperative.

He and other graduates say the summer criminal law program, the emphasis on study skills, test taking, and the personal support and mentoring made all the difference to them. Earlier this month, Lustbader walked this year’s new students through a networking exercise in the first-floor lobby, encouraging them to talk to classmates about themselves.

She and Boerner talked students through the summer course and the weekly exams they would take leading up to the four-hour final.

“We’ll get you in shape so you’ll be ready to go the distance,” Boerner said.

He and Lustbader have learned that giving students clear expectations and letting them know they are not alone in their anxiety puts them at ease.

But make no mistake – this is still a very competitive program, and once criminal law is over, students complete the same coursework as all others. Lustbader and Boerner review about 400 admission files every year looking for students – and only about 10 percent are selected.

“In the old days, we had students who wouldn’t be admitted to go to law school anywhere,” Boerner said. “That’s not the case anymore.”

Like Cassubhai, Lee Lambert wasn’t a great test-taker when he was accepted into the program.

“ARC recognizes there’s more to people than their ability to sit there and take a test,” said Lambert, president of Shoreline Community College in Shoreline, Wash. “The reason I wanted to go to law school was a deep commitment to social justice. I saw the law as an opportunity to fight for equity for others, and ARC let me do that.”

Lambert has also worked in human resources and legal affairs at The Evergreen State College, Centralia College, for the state Department of Transportation and the King County Prosecutor’s Office. He serves on the Governor’s Affirmative Action and Policy Committee.

“ARC was the gateway to exposing me to so many different things, not just from an educational standpoint, but from a personal standpoint to find out who you are and what you can do,” Lambert said.

Though Lambert didn’t pursue a typical legal practice, his JD helped him immensely. The principles he lives by in his career and life – integrity, open and honest communication, reasonable and consistent policies and accountability – are largely based on what he learned in law school.

“A law degree is the most flexible or versatile degree in the marketplace,” Lambert said. “Legal training prepares you to look at things in a different way, to become a problem solver.”

Susan Kitsu ’92 is director of the Civil Rights Compliance Office for the Hawaii State Department of Education, responsible for investigations, compliance and litigation coordination for a public school district that covers the Hawaiian islands with 186,000 students and more than 22,000 employees.

“The ARC program gave me opportunities that I could only dream about,” Kitsu said.

Among them, she was asked to sit on the Moot Court Board and Conduct Review Board, appointed as the budget director for the Student Bar Association and was the first minority to be Student Bar Association President, chosen as a member for the Inn of Court, and was awarded an Outstanding Woman Graduate award by the National Women Lawyers Association.

“ARC created a great opportunity for many of us who went on to become successful lawyers, administrators and leaders in our communities,” she said.

Among her successes, Kitsu was a pro bono attorney for Japanese American families in Hawaii who were wrongfully discriminated against by the military during World War II. As a pro bono attorney, she was assigned to assist each of the families with applying for reparations. The legal team worked hard to win $2.5 million for the families.

She was recently named one of 40 leaders in Hawaii under the age of 40.

“I owe all of these successes to the ARC program,” Kitsu said. “The program prepared me to be a leader and I hope to pass it on to the next generation of law students who work with me,” she said.

As Lambert learned in law school and sees at the community college system:

“If you give people an opportunity, it’s amazing what they can do with it.”

Boerner and Lustbader are ‘mentors for life’

More than 20 years ago, Paula Lustbader was a student in Dave Boerner’s professional responsibility class. She was displeased about the way he handled an incident in class and told him so.

“It was a wonderful exchange – I got to know her better, and it went from there,” Boerner said.

She became his student assistant for a new type of summer criminal law class he was teaching.

“And the rest is history,” Lustbader said.

The law school at the time had an early-entry program where students had a week or two of help before school. Boerner didn’t think it was working well, and he suggested to then Dean Fred Tausend that they incorporate the summer criminal law class with the early entry program. Tausend, as well as Deans Jim Bond, Rudy Hasl and current Dean Kellye Testy have remained supportive of the program.

That bred success, and Lustbader went on to direct the program that Boerner started. Twenty years later, they have a great working relationship and have made a difference in the lives of hundreds of students. They are the face of the program. Lustbader has become a national expert in academic assistance programs, law school pedagogy and diversity, and Boerner is recognized as an expert in criminal law and ethics. Both are passionate about the program.

“It gives people who otherwise wouldn’t become lawyers the opportunity to become lawyers,” said Boerner, who was a prosecutor and practiced law for 18 years before joining the faculty. “That’s worth doing.”

They have been the mainstay of this program, and students and graduates have great love and loyalty for them.

“Because it’s their only class, and the class is smaller, we get to know them better,” Boerner said.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Frank Cuthbertson said Boerner’s practical experience made him an excellent professor.

“Through Professor Boerner you can get a feel for the Bar here in Washington, what it means to be a lawyer in Washington – he epitomizes that,” Cuthbertson said. “When I was sworn in, he was one of the people I asked to speak because he was such a big influence.”

Lee Lambert ’92 still remembers his first days in his summer class and the mentoring he received along the way.

“To be a first-generation college student who didn’t have much exposure to the legal profession, Paula and Dave were very welcoming,” he said.

When Lambert was struggling to find a job after a number of interviews, he sought Lustbader’s help. She helped him frame questions and answers in a different way – and he started to have better interviews and get offers.

Students continually seek Lustbader’s guidance and hearty laugh. Graduates remember her love for the color purple and keep in close touch. It’s hard to get through a meeting in her purple-decorated office without students stopping by to say hi or ask a question.

“I have the best job in the law school,” she said, beaming. “What a joy and privilege to work with these students.”

She is always quick to point out that whatever work she puts in, it’s ultimately the students who are responsible for their own success.

Still, many consider both of them lifelong friends.

“I still recall receiving my letter of acceptance to the law school back in 1989,” said Susan Kitsu ’92. “I couldn’t believe that I was on my way to law school. Part of the acceptance packet included letters signed by Paula Lustbader and David Boerner. Little did I know that these two influential people would be my mentors for life.”

Summer 2007