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January 24, 2017


The Importance of Mentors for Second-Year Law Students

By Alix Cohen, Carlton Fields Jorden Burt,
P.A. and Merrick L. "Rick" Gross,
Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, P.A.

The start of a law student’s 2L year is often more overwhelming than the start of the 1L year: rather than merely focusing on studying, you now have to balance your coursework with additional extracurricular activities including, hopefully, interviews for work positions for the summer after the 2L year. This is the time when students start planning not just their curriculums (the 1L curriculum is really dictated by your law school), but their careers. Developing a relationship with a mentor as a 2L can aid in the job-seeking process, open the door to new opportunities, and provide guidance on how to build a successful career.

Assistance with the Job-Seeking Process

Beginning in August of the 2L year, many students participate in On Campus Interviews (commonly referred to as “OCI”). This is where medium and large law firms interview students for summer associate positions, which can often lead to post-graduate job offers. Alternatively to OCI, other students will start their 2L year by applying for externships (i.e., with government or non-profit entities), which likewise can lead to post-graduate job opportunities. This is often a confusing and stressful time for students, as they are required to a) figure out what type of summer positions they want to apply for, and b) develop a strategy to optimize their chances of being selected for those positions. A mentor can help guide you through this process. If your mentor is a third-year law student, for instance, they can walk you through the interview process, as it will be fresh in their memory from the previous year. If your mentor is an experienced attorney, they can help you figure out what you want to do by discussing the pros and cons of different options. They can also offer suggestions on how to improve your candidacy by shedding light on what the interviewers are looking for.

Access to New Opportunities 

While some job opportunities are based on grades and academic credentials, others are based on contacts. In other words, they are the result of networking. If your 1L grades are not what you had hoped, networking can be a great way to meet lawyers in the community and build connections for your career. Even if you have had academic success, networking can introduce you to the multitude of opportunities that are available to you, as you can meet attorneys practicing in a wide array of fields of the law. As a long-term goal, networking can also help you build relationships that may turn into clients in the future. Having a mentor can aid in the networking process because your mentor can expose you to new networking opportunities, introduce you to his or her colleagues, and help teach you strategies for mingling and getting the most benefits out of networking events.

Guidance for Summer Associates

Once you obtain a summer associate position or internship, your mentor can help advise you on how to succeed in that position. For instance, as a summer associate at a law firm, many questions may arise, such as how to balance conflicting time obligations, how to make yourself valuable to the firm, how to network internally with the partners and other lawyers at the firm, etc. If you have a mentor who is an experienced lawyer, these will be issues that they have learned how to resolve. Your mentor can guide you through the process, which is critically important for summer associates who are hoping to receive a full-time job offer from their firms. Even if your mentor is a third-year law student, it is helpful to have someone to talk to who has recently undergone a similar experience. You can learn from their mistakes, have someone to whom you feel comfortable asking questions, and build a relationship with someone who understands what it is like to be in your position.

Bridging the Gap from School to Work

If you start developing a relationship with a mentor when you are a 2L, by the time you graduate law school, you will have spent a year or more forming a close relationship with that person. If you do not have a job upon graduation, it would certainly be helpful to have a connection with someone who has long-standing ties in the legal community where you want to practice. But even if you have a job secured, graduating from law school can be a difficult transition: going from school to a full-time job involves significant changes, and new lawyers typically face a steep learning curve when figuring out how to practice law, rather than be a law student. If you have a close relationship with your mentor, you will have someone who you can talk to about this transition. Therefore, finding a mentor can be extremely helpful for many reasons—from the start of 2L year, through the start of your career.

Where and How to Find a Mentor

Getting a mentor is not as hard as it sounds, whether it be an established attorney or a 3L student. With regard to attorneys, networking at bar events is a great avenue to explore. You can find out about these events by checking out the websites of various bar associations that are local to your school. Then attend a few events and meet people. Always bring business cards that you can hand out and follow-up with anyone you meet at such an event. You would be surprised to find out how many of these individuals want to help. 

Additionally, many law schools have alumni (even those from outside the locale of the law school) who are happy to mentor law students. Find out about these opportunities from your school’s alumni office or career planning and placement office. As for having a 3L mentor, get involved in activities at your school—that is the easiest way to meet someone.