Last September, I began volunteering as a mentor at the UNT Dallas College of Law. I met weekly with 1L (first-year) law students to talk about anything and everything going on in their lives. It's a program that is unique to UNT (having practicing attorneys mentor 1L students is not something every law school offers) and is a great way to show students the reality of being a lawyer. Having climbed the mountain that is law school you gain a perspective on things and can break down what seems like Mount Everest into maybe just Enchanted Rock.
I specifically chose to mentor the part-time evening students because I was a part-time evening student in law school. I knew I wouldn't be the mentor with the most years of experience under my belt, but I did know that my law school experience would closely mirror theirs. I knew what it was like to work full time then go to school at night, give up free time, miss events with family and friends, all for something that you didn't quite understand yet. The first year of law school is scary, confusing, and a real test of your self-confidence. Showing these students that there is a light at the end of the tunnel is something I was happy to spend my time doing.
One thing I learned during law school, which I have tried to pass on, is that no one gets through it alone. Everyone has had to lean on someone at one point or another (probably many times) in order to get through law school. That applies whether you went to school full or part time, day or evening. Law students are typically used to being the "Smart Kid" in class, and able to do most things without help from others. Law school changes that. It's a way of learning that most haven't encountered before and at some point everyone asks for help. I wanted the students to know that asking for help is okay whether it was from an academic or a personal perspective. It didn't make them lazy or foolish or less than anyone else. It made them normal.
Sometimes in the mentor sessions we talk about what it's like to be a practicing attorney. I try to be as honest as possible with the students. That includes saying sometimes telling them, "This part of being an attorney isn't the greatest." I don't sugar coat things for them; I tell them what I like and don't like about practicing law. I think that's part of the mentor process. I'd like them to get a real picture of what it's like to be an attorney. I prefer to share my mistakes and lessons so that others can benefit from them.
Other times, we discuss what it is like to be a law student. We talk about how to manage classes at night with a full-time job, when to study, when to see your family, how to outline or brief a case and the all important: when to take a break. I encourage the students to keep a balance to their lives during law school. I realize that's easier said than done. It's easy to get caught up in the never-ending to do list of law school but taking a break is a necessary part of doing your best work.
I commend UNT Dallas for using practicing attorneys to mentor their students. A practicing attorney can put things in perspective for students in a way that others cannot. If I can pass on even a fraction of the support I received from practicing attorneys while I was law school, I consider that a success!