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Lawyers and judges often speak about a gap between legal education and the legal profession, which often appears when associates tackle practical challenges in their new positions. How is it that a law student can graduate without ever having set foot in a courtroom, or ever having had a conversation about professionalism with a practicing lawyer? The gap often deprives new lawyers of the opportunity to understand or anticipate the multidimensional expectations of the fast-paced legal workplace. The University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis decided to do something about this problem, and at the school’s founding, in 2001, it initiated a mentor externship program that connects law students to the life of a lawyer. In each year of law school, students are paired with a respected lawyer or judge in the community who exemplifies the highest standards of professionalism. The diverse pool of mentors (more than 550) introduce students to a wide range of legal tasks and judicial activities and share with them the traditions, ideals, and skills necessary for a successful career. Mentors also help students learn the many unwritten rules, customs, and courtesies of the legal profession to give them an edge as they integrate themselves into the culture of their new profession. At the start of the year each student is required to consult with his mentor and prepare an individualized road map that we call a personal and professional development plan, identifying what the student would like to accomplish in the mentor relationship. The plan focuses on three objectives: • To foster the highest levels of professionalism;

• To provide students with a window through which to view professional obligations in the real world and exposure to the diverse spectrum of work of lawyers and judges; and • To create opportunities for students to engage in conversations with mentors, full- and part-time faculty, and peers about professionalism, the practice of law, and what they are observing and learning through their mentor experience. Mentor externship is only successful if the student and mentor are actively engaged in the mentor relationship. The University of St. Thomas dedicates several full-time employees (faculty and staff) to running the program and making sure mentor relationships don’t fail. The program provides consistent contact and follow-up with the student and the mentor. Requiring all students to participate in the program educates them about professional issues (the first objective of the program) in a way that the traditional classroom environment may not. The most common student violations involve basic professional behaviors, preventable mistakes a summer or new associate cannot afford to make on the job. They include having poor communication skills (failing to return phone calls or e-mails), lacking diligence (failing to efficiently juggle multiple projects or cutting corners on assignments), missing deadlines, and making errors in record-keeping. Habits begin early, even among the most intellectually talented students, so it remains important to expose students early to real-world skills they will need as associates. Mentors will often inform program administrators if a student fails to respond in a professional and timely manner or fails to meet minimum professional standards in her communications. As a result, staff and students can explore this common issue and outline a plan for improving the students’ approach to the challenge. Program administrators also deal with a number of students who fail to meet deadlines. Among other program deadlines, students are required to turn in a mentor-signed personal and professional development plan, complete all midyear requirements by early December, and turn in eight journals during the year. Students are reminded that in the real world a judge or a judicial clerk will not send a friendly e-mail reminder the day before a brief is due, or be available to respond to an e-mail sent in the middle of the night asking for an extension. Another critical professional skill is accurate and contemporaneous record-keeping. The program requires students to practice this vital skill by recording all activity in an electronic log, much like lawyers do. Students are told that the program administrators are their clients and inaccurate “bills” (logs) submitted for “payment” (academic credit) will be denied. For example, if a student attends a deposition with her mentor, she records the date of the event, a description of the event, the names of the attorneys present, and the amount of time spent preparing for and participating in the event, including travel time. While program administrators help the student see professionalism issues, mentors have a significant impact on the student’s professional development. First, a mentor who demonstrates successful work habits, technical skills, and professional behavior provides a vision of success. Second, mentors offer suggestions on how to address a variety of professionalism issues. For instance, a mentor may provide insight on handling a full caseload, serving all clients with the same level of attention, treating others with civility, and managing one’s own work. For example, one graduate of the program reports that during law school he disliked the fact that he had to work with a mentor (“just one more requirement to graduate”) and did not appreciate his mentor’s feedback or the opportunity to start networking with a prominent lawyer in the community. Two years later, that same individual serves as a mentor himself and is now an ambassador for the program, emphasizing to law students all the benefits of working with a more senior member of the profession. The second objective of the program is to provide students with real-world exposure through the eyes of a practicing attorney or a judge. Students often observe or participate in legal or judicial activities. Program experiences are as diverse as the mentors themselves. For example, a student can attend a deposition, help draft a will, or attend a board of governors meeting for a nonprofit. First-year students must complete four different experiences, while second- and third-year students must complete five. Accomplishing the fieldwork goals with a mentor requires the student to initiate and develop a relationship with a more senior member of the profession. For instance, a member of the Minnesota Court of Appeals announced at a CLE session that his student from UST Law was a “superstar.” Mentors also help students develop other skills, including obtaining and keeping clients, counseling, engaging in negotiation, diagnosing and planning solutions to legal problems, networking within and outside the firm, planning a career, and managing time. The third objective of the program creates opportunities for students to engage in conversations with mentors, full- and part-time faculty, and peers about professionalism, the practice of law, and what they are observing and learning through their mentor experience. Many lawyers graduate from law school without exploring, in a meaningful way, some of these key professional questions, such as dealing with difficult clients, adversaries, or colleagues, or the role of one’s personal values in professional decision-making. Not only do UST law students engage in these conversations, but they are required to keep journals about them. Keeping journals provides students with an additional opportunity to reflect on the conversation and to think about what it means for their professional development. Mentor externship classes differ based upon the student’s matriculation level. First-year students are required to attend four small group sessions during the year. Full-time faculty, staff, and peer mentors (who are second- and third-year students) run these discussions. Topics include public service, stress management, social justice and faith, and the conversations and experiences generated through the students’ work with their mentors. Second- and third-year students receive one credit each year and are required to take a classroom component of the program. Classes focus on the key professional relationships lawyers have in serving their communities as well as the key skills that traditionally fall outside of required curriculum. Class topics include client relationship skills, client development skills, firm operations and management, managing workload, and interpersonal skills and professional sensitivity, specifically for gender and race. The UST Law mentor externship program can serve as a model for building a foundation of excellence and ideals for law students. Through the program students are on the fast track to becoming valuable assets to their employers and the communities they serve.


Lisa Montpetit Brabbit is assistant dean for external relations and programs, and David M. Bateson is director of mentor externship for the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis.

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