As a law student, you are well-versed in the law from many hours of academic study, hypothetical case scenarios and legal principles. But what else might you encounter when working in the legal industry that goes beyond your classroom teachings? When it comes to the true practice of law, you learn through practical, hands-on experience—including how to forge powerful mentorships. This is not something the law books teach, which can leave students feeling uncomfortable or unsure about how to reach out for help or advice when they first enter the legal world, resulting in a critical support gap during a period when law students need it the most.
In a field as challenging and demanding as law, mentors—often law professors or experienced lawyers—can serve as an invaluable source of knowledge for aspiring lawyers. To help you navigate this critical aspect of your career development, we have outlined some of the most important benefits of having a mentor and being a mentee, along with relevant advice that you can use to build a rewarding and long-lasting mentorship.
Mentors are critical sources of advice and feedback, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help
It is all too common for law students to feel like there is a disconnect between what they learn in the classroom and what real-time legal work entails. You may feel as though your textbooks did not entirely prepare you for the workplace. Imposter syndrome, or the feeling that you are not as competent or talented as others perceive you to be, may set in. Without the appropriate resources to address this disconnect, you may start questioning yourself and your professional path.
This is why having a trusted mentor who can guide you through these challenges is immensely helpful. Not only are they someone you can count on to listen to—and empathize with—your concerns, but they can also help you refine a range of core competencies, from researching complex legal cases, to nurturing client relationships, to engaging with other lawyers. They can even prepare you for interviews by conducting mock ones and providing constructive feedback.
Of course, every law student faces different challenges, which is why it is important to vocalize any personal questions or concerns you may have in the workplace. It may seem like an intimidating task, but remember this: all lawyers—no matter how senior—were in the same shoes as you at one point in their careers. Once you reach out, you may be surprised to learn that many lawyers are willing to lend a helping hand. As such, it’s important to keep an eye out for those who are open to taking on a mentee. Then, make your goals for the mentorship relationship clear beforehand. What advice are you seeking from this mentor? How often are you meeting? Questions like these should have answers mutually agreed upon by both parties to ensure a successful mentorship.
Watch Goodwin associate Anna Yeomans speak to the importance of reaching out.
Mentors can help guide a law student’s professional journey, so be introspective, open and honest about what you want out of your career
Not only can mentors be critical sources of advice or feedback, but they can also provide fresh insight into your journey through law school and beyond. As law students navigate their education and future careers, there are a lot of unknowns related to the different professional paths one can take in the legal industry.
Mentors can help alleviate this uncertainty because, again, they have been through it all. As you go through law school, you will likely have questions about what legal practice areas or sectors you want to go into. Mentors can provide invaluable insight into what type of law best suits your interests, and how you can tailor your educational and professional experiences to align with your goals. They can also help you expand your professional network. In the legal world, it can feel like everyone knows everyone, so having a mentor can help you integrate more seamlessly into this expansive community.
With that in mind, be introspective about what kind of career you want for yourself. Know that having questions about your career options is not a sign of weakness and that it is normal for law students to consider many different professional paths. Voice your thoughts and concerns to your mentor, and see what advice they have to offer.
Watch Goodwin associate Cusaj Thomas reflect on how his summer associate experience helped mold his professional path.
Mentors can help legal talent from historically marginalized backgrounds achieve success
Mentorship takes on a special level of importance for law students from historically excluded communities. Although the legal industry is diversifying, there are still unique obstacles facing aspiring lawyers from marginalized backgrounds. These barriers range from a lack of representation in the workforce, to tokenism, to experiencing microaggressions and stereotypes based on a person’s background. As a result, these law students are disproportionately more likely to drop out of law school than their peers.
Additionally, mentorship is particularly important for first-generation law students because they are more likely to not have a strong professional network due to lack of early exposure to the legal industry. Having a mentor fills in this support gap and provides first-generation law students with an added sense of security that they have someone who will be there for them throughout their career. This becomes even more invaluable considering the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on law students from historically excluded communities.
If you are a law student from an underrepresented background, know that you are not alone and that there is a support network for you out there. Seek out mentors who have also share your lived experiences, or find those who empathize and are happy to develop a deep understanding of your lived experiences and concerns.
Watch Goodwin partner Jesse Nevarez talk about how mentorship brings opportunity for aspiring lawyers from diverse communities.
There are almost endless benefits to having a mentor, especially if you are a new lawyer. Whether you are seeking advice on what area of the law to enter or simply looking to establish an ongoing professional relationship with a lawyer you look up to, mentors are invaluable resources for your personal and professional growth. No matter where you are in your legal journey, anytime is a good time to begin a mentorship relationship. So, why not start now?
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