The Making of a Mentor – Helpful Steps for Finding Your Best Mentor Fit

Networking at the Oliver Hill brunch!

by Yasmine Palmer, 2L 

It should come as no surprise that navigating law school and the beginning of a legal career can be difficult for many. Whether you are struggling to understand the elements of negligence in Torts class or stressing about the 1L summer job hunt, any number of situations can lead new law students to feel a little lost. One of the best things that you can do in situations like these is talking people who have been there before—people like your mentors!

Forming meaningful connections with mentors provides you with a pool of wisdom and insight to dip into when questions or concerns arise as you begin to chart your chosen legal path. But first, you have to find them!

Here are four steps that can help kick-start your search:

Step 1: Determine what kind of relationship that you’re looking for

Mentorship relationships can take a variety of different forms, so it is essential that you first sit down and decide what kind of relationship(s) will best suit you. Are you looking for someone who can offer guidance relevant to your academic struggles? Someone who can help you organize and develop your job search strategy? Someone who can provide both? Do you want someone who works in the field that you’re interested in or will any practice area do? Do you want something more professional or personal?

These are some of the questions that will be helpful to ask as you figure out what kind of mentorship relationship you would like. It’s important to note here that you can—and should—have more than one mentor. While a cabinet of ten mentors offering different opinions from different backgrounds may be a bit much, it’ll be more beneficial than not to have three or four people to whom you can turn to for guidance.

Step 2: Do your research

Once you have determined what kind of mentors you are looking for, start looking for them! The first place people often look is their personal network of friends and family. Maybe your uncle is a lawyer or you have a family friend who knows someone working in the legal field. That’s a great place to start.

After you’ve explored those relationships, another helpful place to look are past professors and/or employers (with whom you have or had good relationships with) who are working in or adjacent to the legal field. Given that you’ve taken classes with or worked for these people in the past, your pre-existing relationship with them will serve as a useful foundation on which you can construct something new.

Another great group of people to consider are your law school’s alumni! Many schools, W&M included, have information banks that contain the names, practice areas, and contact information of alumni that are made open to students W&M has a great program specifically tailored to connect 1L students with alumni mentors—more on this later.

The last group I’ll mention, though certainly not the least, are your upper level classmates. Who better to guide you through law school than people who were in your position just one or two years before you?

Step 3: Make connections

For people directly related to or closely connected with you, a phone call or friendly email may be all that you need to get things going. An email with the following information will be useful when reaching out to the more distant connections:

  • An introduction (or reintroduction) including your name, where you attend school, and your year
  • Brief reminder of how you’re connected (i.e. whether you met at a professional function or were connected through your neighbor)
  • An indication of your awareness of and interest in what they do/where they do it
  • A request for a phone call or meeting, during which you can further discuss their work and overall career

Sending out emails like this is a simple step towards establishing professional connections that may one day rise to the level of mentorship. Some emails may go unanswered, but do not let that discourage you from continuing to send out messages. This also happens to be a great way to establish informational interviews with people working in places where you might be interested in getting an internship!

Note that the above list does not include asking them to be your mentor. Particularly when reaching out to people that you’re not very familiar with, this is a question that you’ll want to bring up later, once a substantial rapport has been established. Sometimes you won’t need to ask at all and the mentorship will come about organically.

Step Four: While you wait to hear back from those you reach out to, utilize your school’s resources

William & Mary offers a variety of opportunities for students to find mentors, both inside and outside of the law school. The 1L Co-Counsel Program and the Student Bar Association Mentorship Program are just two of them.

1L Co-Counsel Program

Sponsored by the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs, this program pairs 1Ls (“Junior Counsel”) with qualified and experienced alumni (“Senior Counsel”). Senior Counsel “share experiences and wisdom gained during their professional journey while volunteering their time to mentor, advise, and guide [their Junior Counsels].”

SBA Mentorship Program

At the beginning of each school year, members of the Student Bar Association (SBA) pair 1L mentees with a 2L or 3L mentor. Using information gathered from detailed forms sent out to every member of the student body, SBA tries to pair 1Ls with upper level students based on projected career interests, extracurricular involvement, first-year schedules, and more.

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Finding mentors is important but the process can take time. The phrase “you get out of it what you put in” certainly applies to mentorship relationships. Once you have laid the foundation for mentorship, it is essential to be intentional about engaging your mentor and being open to the advice and guidance that they have to offer. I hope that this has been helpful!