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D.C. Bar Welcomes 27 Attorneys to John Payton Leadership Academy

May 08, 2024

By John Murph

2024 John Payton Leadership Academy

The D.C. Bar kicked off its 2024 John Payton Leadership Academy on April 22 with 27 attorneys from a variety of professional settings embarking on a three-month intensive training to unlock their leadership potential in a competitive, rapidly changing professional landscape.
Now in its 11th year, the academy helps participants better understand their leadership styles so that they can better articulate their professional and personal values and successfully lead.

The following attorneys comprise the Leadership Academy class of 2024:
Castell Abner III, Commercial Litigation Associate, Venable LLP
Michele Aronson, Senior Managing Associate, Sidley Austin LLP
Jorge Aviles, Associate, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP
Cheryl-Lyn Bentley-Harmon, General Counsel, National Association of Social Workers
Luis Bernal, Deputy General Counsel, Appalachian Regional Commission
Kimberly Blasey, Associate, Dillon PLLC
Ivy Brewer, Assistant General Counsel, Social Finance
Beverly Chang, Assistant General Counsel, BSA | The Software Alliance
Yevedzo Chitiga, CEO and Founder, Yevedzo Coaching & Consulting
Safiya Dixon, Appellate Attorney, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Keniece Gray, Litigation Associate, Morrison & Foerster LLP
Andrew Huber, Acting Co-Associate Director, Tzedek DC
Christopher Kelley, Staff Attorney, D.C. Bar
Erin Kuhls, Counsel, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP
Zenia Wilson Laws, Senior Staff Attorney, Legal Aid DC
Lesley Marlin, Associate General Counsel, Labor & Employment, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority
John McBride, Associate, Nixon Peabody LLP
Maritza Perez Medina, Director of Federal Affairs, Drug Policy Alliance
Joseph Shepherd Miller, Founder, JSM Law, PLLC
Rashee Raj, General Counsel, D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability
Anthony Scerbo, Attorney Advisor, D.C. Office of Open Government (Board of Ethics and Government Accountability
Shavon Smith, Founder/Partner, SJS Law Firm, PLLC
Abigail Sweeney, Staff Attorney, Cancer LAW Project, Georgetown University Health Justice Alliance
Eric Tarosky, Associate, Kirkland & Ellis LLP
Blair Trahan, Associate, White & Case LLP
Elizabeth White, Of Counsel, Ben Crump Law PLLC
Joy Zheng, Associate, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP

This year’s academy is facilitated by Monique Steele, principal of Steele Consultant Group; Darryl Spivey, vice president and CFO of Your Write Hand; and Robert Demaree, president of Next Step Leadership Coaching. Divided into work groups or “home teams,” attendees go through drills and activities to learn more about themselves and how to lead others through evolving environments and challenging times.

John Payton Leadership AcademyThe training program also includes a field trip to the D.C. Court of Appeals to watch an oral argument and meet Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, opportunities to engage with members of the D.C. Bar Board of Governors, and volunteer service at a D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center clinic.

“There is this sweet spot in terms of years of practice,” said Dennis Cuevas, director of the D.C. Bar Continuing Legal Education Program, when asked about some of the deciding factors for selecting this year’s attendees. “We [weren’t] necessarily looking for anyone fresh out of law school. We wanted a number of years of practice — three to 10 years is that sweet spot.”

“[The applicants] draft a narrative as to why they want to be in the academy and what they hope to get out of it,” Cuevas continued. “We look for a lot of leadership potential in the applicants [themselves], and we look for diversity in practice areas.”

At the beginning of the training program, participant Joseph Shepherd Miller, founder of JSM Law, PLLC, said he looked forward to learning more about the leadership tools that the D.C. Bar provides for serving the D.C. community. “It’s great to get out there and build my own network, but at this point in my career I’m more interested in finding ways to create real value in the lives of my clients,” Miller said. “The lawyers in my cohort are absolute superstars. They are so inspiring to work with and learn from. The John Payton Leadership Academy is truly unique, and it’s refreshing to see a bar association that puts client-centered leadership at the heart of its programming.

The Leadership Academy was established in 2013 and subsequently renamed in honor of the late John Payton, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Widely regarded as one of the most influential civil rights attorneys of his generation, Payton served as president of the D.C. Bar from 2001 to 2002 and devoted much of his career to the training and mentorship of young attorneys.

The class of 2024 will graduate from the Leadership Academy on June 17.

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