This week, I write to share a program, the Mentor Externship Program at University of St. Thomas School of Law, that I have successfully emulated at two other law schools.  I am not the only admirer. St Thomas’ version of the program was awarded the American Bar Association’s E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award, and a similar program (modeled on St. Thomas’ program) is part of a comprehensive professionalism curriculum, created by my former colleagues at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law, also received a Gambrell Professionalism Award.

Every entering student at St. Thomas is matched with a mentor who is either a judge or practices in an area of law of interest to the student. The goals of this program include fostering professionalism, developing students’ interpersonal skills, and deepening students’ self-directed learning skills.

First-year students focus on developing good relationships with their mentors and logging 18 hours of fieldwork. Students receive guidance on professionalism, communication, time management, and making the most of mentor relationships through programs held throughout the year. The first year has no seminar component, and no academic credit is earned.

Second- and third-year students complete 30 hours of fieldwork per year while maintaining good relationships with their mentor. In addition, students take a required one credit seminar each year. The seminars are taught by full- and part-time faculty. These faculty mentors teach up to 16 students in small group classes and assist students in meeting their self-defined objectives throughout the year.

Fieldwork experiences are combined with reflective writing to promote students’ self-reflection skills. For more information, try this link; click on each of the sub-links.

Having served as the dean at two law schools that have implemented similar programs, I have now heard from dozens of students who regarded their mentoring experiences as among their best experiences as law students. Many have reported discovering new potential areas of practice or discovering that an area of law they thought was attractive was not. A good number have secured summer and even permanent jobs as a result of their mentoring experiences.