PUBLISHED:November 05, 2009

Bart '02 returns to Duke Law to lead the Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono

When Kim Bart ’02 took over the Law School’s Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono as assistant dean at the beginning of the school year, it was more than just a homecoming. It was the attainment of a career aspiration.

“I have always wanted Carol Spruill’s job,” Bart says without hesitation, referring to the longtime associate dean of public interest and pro bono who retired from the post in December 2008. As a law student, Bart participated in the Public Interest Law Foundation and public interest retreats, and studied Spruill’s efforts in molding the public interest and pro bono program.

“What Carol did was identify the places where there was dedicated student interest in a particular area of public interest or pro bono activity and she’d nurture and grow it,” Bart says. “The seeds were planted when she started in 1999, but to compare the program then to now is almost mind-blowing.” And having had her own interest in the field nurtured at Duke, Bart says she was delighted when she had the opportunity return.

“It just so happens that the opportunities that I’ve had in my career have really set me up well with students in my new role at Duke,” she says.

Spruill agrees, saying she cannot imagine anyone more perfect than Bart to lead the public interest program. “I am amazed at the wide range of experiences that she has had which would be of interest to a Duke Law student.”

“Yet it is Kim’s personality and enthusiasm that really distinguishes her,” continues Spruill who remains a senior lecturing fellow. “I twice saw her come back as an alumna to our Public Interest Retreats and received rave reviews from the students for the insights she dispensed. And I love the twinkle in her eye that she always exhibits when she talks passionately about public service. I am sure that the program which meant so much to me over 18 years will flourish and grow under Kim's leadership.”

Bart came to Duke Law as a student in 1999 with two degrees from Syracuse University: a bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, in women studies and a master’s in public administration with a concentration in social policy. “My interest has always been in women, child, and family policy issues,” she says. The opportunity to study under A. Kenneth Pye Professor of Law Katharine Bartlett, a preeminent scholar of feminist legal jurisprudence, was a large factor in her decision to attend Duke, she notes.

Bart spent her 1L summer with the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C., studying child care policy and split her 2L summer between the center and Crowell & Moring LLP, which she joined as an associate after graduating. “The firm seemed to jive with my feeling about how to approach working in the law with a high level of professionalism and a sense of integrity,” she says. “I was really looking for a law firm that upheld the ideals of what I felt it meant to be a lawyer.”

At Crowell & Moring, Bart became almost immediately involved in a large pro bono case involving Cracker Barrel restaurants and allegations of race discrimination against their customers.

“The case gave me a lot of great exposure to clients [and] a lot of responsibility in helping to manage a case,” she says. “It was through that pro bono litigation that I took and defended my first deposition, drafted interrogatories, and had some of my first client contact as an attorney.”

Bart notes the similar value of experiences facilitated by the Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono where students work alongside practicing attorneys on real cases serving real clients. “On one hand, you get that ‘feel good’ component of knowing that you are helping someone that otherwise would not have access to the legal system,” she says. “But at the same time, you are supporting your own career development by gaining invaluable skills as an attorney.”

After a few years at the firm, Bart was accepted into the Georgetown Clinical Graduate Teaching Fellowship Program where she became a teaching fellow with the Federal Legislation Clinic. “Initially I took the job because I really wanted to hone my legislative lawyering skills, but I ended up falling in love with teaching,” she says. Upon completion of the fellowship, Bart accepted the position of director of the Domestic Violence Clinic at the University of Alabama School of Law.

Through the clinic, she says she came to understand the value of seeing how policies and laws play out in individuals’ lives in different areas of the country. “It means something different to be poor in Washington, D.C. than it means to be poor in the ‘Black Belt’ of Alabama.”

But when the opportunity arose to return to Duke Law to lead the Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono, Bart was ready. “Cumulatively, over the course of my career, I’ve garnered these gems of experience that make it so that each directly contributes to my ability to succeed in this job,” she says.

The support of the school is also an important factor, she adds. “Everyone is so enthusiastic and excited about what we can do at Duke Law in terms of public interest and pro bono. And everybody is on board to see our students continue to do really impressive amounts of pro bono service.

“I think our students come here ingrained with a sense of service and the mission of our office is to nurture and support that and see it on through to their professional careers,” she says.

“Carol has developed an incredibly impressive program here. It’s multi-faceted and services and supports various interests among the students,” Bart continues. “I am definitely — in this case — standing on the shoulders of giants and it allows me to see far, and to see where we can go.”