Denver Bar Association
February 2008
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Make a Difference. Become a Mentor.

by Christopher Massey

"I have participated in the DU mentor program since its inception. Spending time with law students excited about becoming lawyers always renews my own joy in practicing law. The DU program is a modest investment of time that will provide anyone involved with personal satisfaction. I encourage everyone to mentor a law student."

– Howard Kenison, Partner at Lindquist & Vennum

Two characteristics distinguish the Lawyering Process Mentoring Program at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law from other mentoring programs: structure and time. Mentors become an integral part of the first year research, writing and communication program, and the minimum time requirement is less than three hours a semester. Unlike traditional approaches taken in most mentoring programs, mentors and students have defined responsibilities, a fixed number of meetings and established objectives.

Recognizing that his students needed "real world" experience in the first year of law school, Lawyering Process Professor Michael G. Massey initiated the program with his two sections of the Lawyering Process class in 2005. During the next year, he began working with the Sturm College of Law Alumni Council and the program grew to four sections. In academic year 2007–08, DU law alums and other lawyers from the metropolitan area are mentoring more than half of the entering class. "The goal," Massey said, "is to have a mentor for every member of the entering class in August 2008. No other law school in the country has such a program."

Each mentor is assigned to a specific student for the entire academic year. During the fall semester, students and mentors meet three times: the first meeting is a social occasion; the second to discuss research and memo writing techniques; and the third to hear the student’s oral presentation of his or her research results, which is based on a specific problem assigned in class. Mentors have considerable opportunities to teach a first-year law student how to undertake research and present the results of that research to a hypothetical "senior partner." There are few skills in law school that are more important to acquire.

In the spring semester, the focus of the Lawyering Process class changes from objective writing to persuasive writing. The focus of the mentor-student meetings changes, as well. There are social occasions at the beginning and the end of semester, and the mentor has opportunities to teach a student how to develop a complaint and answer, and assist a student in making that first nerve-wracking oral argument.

Before each substantive meeting, the mentor receives instructions and any necessary documents from the Lawyering Process professor in whose section the mentor’s student is enrolled. The mentor also is encouraged to discuss any questions, concerns or suggestions with the professor. Mentor-student meetings require 30 to 60 minutes (except for social occasions), and usually take place at the mentor’s office.

"This program is a great opportunity for the volunteer attorney to focus on a narrow project and give the student very specific useful feedback without having to do lots of research or make a big time commitment," said Diana Black, Colorado Deputy Attorney General.

There are a fixed number of mentor meetings that must be held and additional meetings may be scheduled if the mentor and the student agree. The ultimate objective is to provide the student with a "friend in the legal business" that will last beyond the first year of law school. The goal is to create a connection between the mentor and the student that will continue throughout the student’s law school career and into the student’s professional life.

Mentors can be a remarkable professional influence on a law student’s career, offering advice on classes, employment opportunities, ethics and even the Bar exam. Mentoring also is a way in which a lawyer can contribute to the overall improvement of the profession.

"The Sturm College of Law mentoring program permits an experienced member of the Bar, who has been fortunate to be able to contribute to the betterment of society while supporting him/herself, to pass the torch to the next generation of attorneys," said Hon. John Leopold. "A successful mentor-mentee relationship can last for many years."

If you want to become a mentor or receive more information about the program, log onto http://www.law.du.edu/alumni and select "Mentorship Program" or contact Professor Massey at mgmassey@law.du.edu or Christopher Massey, the program coordinator, at cmassey09@law.du.edu. You do not need to be a DU alum to participate in the mentoring program.


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