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The Importance of Mentorship in Law School

Seth D Kramer


  • Lawyers have a duty to help ease the paths of future colleagues by imparting essential professionalism skills through mentoring.
  • Mentorship is important for law students, especially those facing unique challenges such as being first-generation students, students of color, or female students.
  • Law schools have implemented various formal mentorship programs, such as Boston University's "In Real Law" program and the University of Georgia's team-based mentorship, and informal programs such as Southwestern Law School's Alumni Resource Network where students can connect with alumni volunteers.
  • Some student-led initiatives have also been successful such as the Women's Law Caucus at the University of Utah involving upper-class students and attorney practitioners to support first-year law students.
The Importance of Mentorship in Law School Productions

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For many people, the first step to becoming a lawyer is going to law school. And law school can be an overwhelming experience. The voluminous daily reading for multiple classes, the time management challenges, and the unfamiliarity of the Socratic method can often lead a student to anxiety, depression, or the impulse to quit law school altogether. However, a mentor can help a law student navigate this landscape.

“Mentorship is particularly valuable for first-generation students, students of color, and female students, all of whom can face different types of challenges,” says attorney Thomas Freeman, a business law professor at Creighton University’s Heider College of Business (and previously an adjunct professor at Creighton University School of Law). “A good mentor can help a student to navigate a tricky path in school or life. That can make the difference between a student who completes law school and becomes a successful lawyer and one who gets frustrated, feels hopeless, and drops out.”

When I was in law school (in the late 1970s), mentoring for law students was not something that was easily accessible or readily available. However, since the millennium, law schools have addressed this situation in many different and creative ways. The only commonality of these various programs is their popularity among participants.

For example, in 2018, Boston University Law School started the “In Real Law” program. Created by Dean Angela Onwuachi-Willig and two alumni from the ’90s—Jamie Whitney (J.D. ’94) and Robin Walker (J.D. ’99)—IRL places a special focus on engaging students of color and other first-generation law students in networking with members of the Boston legal community. IRL is built around four events. These events are usually dedicated to a general topic—such as success in law school, techniques for job interviewing, etc. At these events the students can interact with members of the Boston legal community in a collegial manner. And the benefit from these meetings is not just limited to the students—the participating attorneys benefit as well. As Walker said in a June 2020 interview, “We are helping people who made it in the profession reach back and help these students build a network.” The IRL program has been such a positive experience for the students that IRL now allows students from other Boston-area law schools to participate.

Since 2016, the University of Georgia School of Law has had a formalized mentorship program that is essentially a team approach to mentoring. The program was originally offered to 1L students who could join a four-person “team” made up of either a 2L or 3L student, a faculty member, someone from career services, and an alumni or other member of the professional community. This mentorship program has been wildly successful. Originally intended to assist 1L students with the transition to law school, by 2020 there had been over 700 mentees in the program. The school’s website indicates, “The number of mentees has significantly grown over the years as students remain connected to their support teams as they advance through law school.”

Mentoring has also led to an outgrowth of existing student organizations. At the University of Utah (S.J Quinney College of Law), the Women’s Law Caucus was in existence prior to the pandemic. However, once Covid-19 became a concern, WLC members could see the impact the pandemic was having on first-year law students’ ability to acclimate to law school. The solution was a student-to-student mentoring system involving upper classmates. The WLC mentoring also included pairing second- and third-year students with attorney practitioners in the community. By 2021, the program had over 100 participants. As WLC mentorship program coordinator Brook Porter Coles said in a 2021 article about the program, “They can meet as frequently or infrequently as they want. It might be a needs-based relationship, where a mentee reaches out for help right before a midterm or an interview...Our hope is that it becomes a genuine and long-lasting friendship.”

Some schools have informal programs designed to integrate the law student within the legal community. According to Elizabeth Bernstein, interim director of Career Services at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, since 2004, Southwestern has maintained a database called the “Alumni Resource Network.” Students are encouraged to use the database and “seek out an alumni volunteer who can mentor them on career paths, offer job shadowing, perform a mock interview, suggest bar associations to join, etc.” Although Bernstein points out that formal metrics are not kept as to the actual use of the database for mentoring activities, anecdotally she indicates that it appears to be very popular among students.

As Freeman says, “I believe mentorship offers tremendous value, both to mentee and mentor. We have a duty as lawyers to help to ease the paths of students who hope to be future colleagues.”

And this duty includes teaching the essentials of professionalism—the “how to’s” of lawyering; how to conduct yourself with the Court and the Court staff; how to act with opposing counsel; and how to interact with clients. All of these learned skills can be most effectively taught through mentoring.