Clinical Professor Cassandra Thomson, a member of the legal writing faculty, received the 2018 Distinguished Teaching Award from Duke Law students at the annual Duke Outstanding and Noteworthy Endeavors (D.O.N.E.) Awards on April 3.
“What some may call a ‘job,’ I consider a privilege – to spend each day in an intellectually stimulating environment surrounded by incredible scholars and accomplished practitioners who are so supportive of one another,” said Thomson. “But, more importantly, it is a privilege to work with such brilliant and talented students.”
The Black Law Students Association (BLSA), the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance organization (VITA), and the Duke Law chapter of the Federalist Society won the awards given to student organizations. Patrick Butler ‘19, Abby Frisch ’18, and Jonathan Ng ’18 won the awards recognizing individual leadership and service, including a new award named for Richard Lin ’16, who died last May.
The D.O.N.E Awards, presented by the Duke Bar Association (DBA), recognize student organizations, student leaders, and faculty who make significant contributions to the community and academic experience at Duke Law. Nominations and feedback are solicited from the entire student body, and winners are finalized by a secret committee of students representing the classes of 2018, 2019, and 2020.
Thomson, who joined Duke Law in 2015 from private practice, teaches-first year Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing as well as Writing in Civil Practice: Sports Arbitration and Negotiation. Students who nominated her for the Distinguished Teaching Award cited her mentorship of students, her inspirational and creative teaching style, and “the precision and helpfulness of her feedback.”
“She has been described as a caring, passionate professor who went above and beyond to support students in and out of the classroom,” said DBA Academics Chair Tanya Smith ’19, who presented the D.O.N.E. Awards. “One student wrote: ‘[Professor Thomson] is warm, sharply competent, and accessible. She epitomizes Duke Law's holistic approach to teaching. She deserves this award and every award available.’”
The Distinguished Teaching Award, which is supported by the class of 1967, has been given annually since 1985. Thomson said winning it was “the greatest honor” of her career.
“This may come as a surprise, but I was shy in law school; I hated speaking in class,” Thomson said. “So when I decided to leave Big Law to speak in class for a living, it was an odd transition for me. But I had a deep desire to not only pass on what I had learned in practice, but to be the mentor that I had never had.
“As the first attorney in my extended family, I did not have anyone to turn to who would give it to me straight, so I vowed to be that person for each of my students – on law school, the profession, or life as a lawyer,” she continued. “It gives me great joy to know that I have had a positive impact on my students, and I am excited to have the opportunity to continue to do so for many years to come.”
BLSA won the Greatest Role in Building Relationships Award, which recognized the student organization that took the extra steps in reaching out not only to students but also to guest lecturers, practitioners, and Duke alumni. “The whole organization is committed to building relationships amongst students and alumni,” one member wrote, citing the group’s alumni mentoring program as particularly meaningful.
The Outstanding Contribution to Civic Discourse, recognizing the organization that made the biggest impact on providing a forum for engaged civil dialogue for students and professors alike, went to the Federalist Society, which has held 18 events this year. “The earnestness to foster discourse is apparent in its membership,” one student said. “Despite its reputation for being home to conservative thoughts at T14 law schools across the nation, the Duke Law chapter is home to students with a wide range of perspectives.”
VITA was honored with the Greatest Service to the Outside Community Award, which goes to the organization that makes the greatest strides to give back to the community of Durham, using practical knowledge learned from Duke Law. One member said that VITA “trains students to provide a rewarding service that makes a positive difference in the lives of people of Durham. Doing taxes sounds simple, and perhaps to some it is, but for many others it is daunting, giving rise to financial and emotional insecurity.”
The Outstanding Student Organization Leader Award, which honors the individual who has found time amongst studies to take on one or multiple leadership roles within the community and to make a difference in those positions, was given to Butler, who serves as president of the Federalist Society, a director of Street Law Durham Youth Home, a mentor in the First Generation Professionals program, and an executive editor of Duke Law Journal. “To take on one leadership position is stressful, but to take on four shows a strong commitment to the total development of the Law School,” a fellow student said.
Frisch won the Outstanding Contribution to the Duke Law Community Award, which recognizes a student who, through their words, actions, and leadership positions has given their time and passion to build the Duke Law community. Frisch, who organized the ESQ symposium as co-president of the Business Law Society as a 2L and now serves as an executive editor of DLJ, is “a true, natural leader who has never shied away from taking on a leadership role,” according to one fellow student. “In all of her commitments, [Frisch] displays a high level of caring for the Law School and a commitment to making it the best possible place for future generations of Duke Law students.”
Ng received the inaugural Richard Lin Award, which recognizes a student whose character and actions reach across the law school community, without a leadership position or title, and who exhibits humility, integrity, optimism, and generosity of time and energy. One student wrote of Ng: “Despite not having a position on the [Asian Pacific American Law Students Association] board in any year, this student has been an incredible mentor to students his junior. Even while he was studying abroad he was still helping people with OCI and 1L. This student is the perfect example of the spirit of Duke Law and Richard Lin.”