Behind attorney Thomas Evans is a breathtaking window panorama of downtown Manhattan. Some of the rooftops visible from this 36th floor of a Maiden Lane skyscraper belong to law firms Mr. Evans has paired with public high schools in all five New York City boroughs to form the MENTOR program, a merger of learning and the law.
Evans is pleased. What began as a personal risk and a risk for his own firm, Mudge Rose Guthrie and Alexander, has grown in gratifying proportions since the spring of 1983. The program won praise from the United States Department of Education as a prime example of what can be accomplished when business and education work in mutual interest.
The attorney explains that MENTOR crystallized after he became aware of a similar venture carried out at New York University Medical Center, in this instance introducing students to the medical profession - ''as practiced, rather than the academics,'' he adds. In due time, five law firms including Mudge Rose joined forces with the New York Alliance for Public Schools. Five high schools were designated for the first partnerships. Word soon spread that these five, coupled with some of the city's leading legal teams, were thriving together. ''The lawyers enjoyed themselves, ... came away respecting the schools a great deal,'' the attorney says. And the students have been ''incredibly receptive, fascinated'' by the legal process.
The program, in short, is a set of ''basics'' and electives. The series begins with an orientation. Law firm representatives visiting the school establish rapport with students, and discuss the law as they practice it.
In the next ''basic,'' participating students (about 30) ''literally go through the firm, trace a case, see the library, word processors,'' says Evans. They also see LEXIS, the computerized legal research system. This is followed by lunch, an opportunity for relaxed exchange between the lawyers and students.
The third day of ''basics'' brings students, with their mentor lawyer, to Foley Square's Federal Courts, where they see a trial or appellate argument, meet a judge when possible, and afterward hear the firm attorney's summary of how the day's events fall within the federal justice system. The fourth ''basic'' session is much like the preceding session, but with focus on state courts instead of federal.
''Electives'' include a day devoted to ''the family and the law,'' which takes students to Family Court; ''Legal Writing and Research,'' which provides closer studies of computer research and writing at the firm; and ''Lawyer in the Classroom,'' in which a firm attorney addresses a specific subject at the school.