This past year as a 1L (for about 2 more weeks) I was reminded of what it was like to be the new person on campus. It’s all so new. I had no idea what to expect. What’s a law school class like? Final exams? Will I make friends? Will I be paralyzed with fear the first time I get cold-called?
Law school is filled with impressive people. Legal education seems to attract students who were involved in numerous organizations and leadership roles in college and excelled in their studies. Those that dream of big plans for their futures. While this is a great group of which to be a part, it can also be intimidating. Part of the unique challenge of the first year of law school is going from previously being a campus leader to the new person on campus. But you’re not doing it alone!
I certainly didn’t walk through the doors at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law by myself. I spent hours consulting with mentors like Greg King, Steve Miller and Mike Marlow over whether or not law school was right for me. Others like Brian Bennett and Brenda and Kevin Heyde helped me with my resume and cover letter. I couldn’t write this without mention of all the help and advice my parents provided along the way.
I served as a teacher with Teach For America between college and law school. That experience gave me unique perspective to see just how much my new teachers and administrators, friends, family, and mentors wanted me to succeed. As a teacher, I loved nothing more than counseling my graduating seniors about life after high school, or writing a letter of recommendation for their scholarships or admission to college. In the same way, law schools across the country offer a support network. Members of the law school and broader legal community want to plug-in students to organizations, grab lunch to discuss career options, share advice about a professor, and impart wisdom that they picked up over the years.
I was a sponge!
Let me give one example of how this supportive community played out in my first year. A friend of mine encouraged me to get involved with the American Bar Association by running for the position of 6th Circuit Governor of the Law Student Division. It was a daunting proposal to take the leap into joining such a large organization and putting myself out there as a regional candidate. How do I make an impact? Where do I start? I had lots of questions. Fortunately, people lined up to help me find answers to those questions. Rudy Ellis, my school’s Student Bar Association President helped me navigate the process and learn the issues facing law students and the ABA. Mentors in the legal community told me about their time serving in the ABA or their local bar association. After winning the election my school’s communication director wrote a short story about me and sent it to our alumni. It was a kind gesture, but I didn’t think much of it. I was so surprised at the response! An alumnus and former Chair of the ABA, Stan Chauvin, contacted the Dean, and she helped us set up a meeting. I met with Mr. Chauvin, who regaled me with stories of his memories from the ABA, Congress, and the legal profession. I could have listened for hours. To make a long story short, I gained a mentor.
Don’t forget to keep track of how many people are involved in this process.
What I’ve found to be incredibly humbling is the investment that these people, who are FAR more important, accomplished and experienced than I, put in me. From friends, to staff to (previously) total strangers, they wanted me to succeed. On top of that, they wanted a relationship beyond a lunch here and there. They’d call to check in, help me plan for the future, and help wherever they could. In fact, some of them helped me tackle my future plans by saying “How can WE get this done?” That is investment.
Now, here’s the cool thing. It’s a cycle. As those that mentor me are often quick to point out, in their humility, they didn’t succeed on their own either. That’s one reason they want to pay it forward. I have felt that very same thing, as a teacher and mentor. It is tremendously fulfilling and plays into the best aspects of our human nature. We want to live in community, and help one another.
I want to wrap this up by giving two pieces of advice, one for now, one for later (but not too much later). Do yourself a favor and break out of your comfort zone to find a mentor. Don’t be too proud to ask for help! Talk to your professors, career services staff, ABA representatives, upperclassmen, local attorneys, judges, or your school’s alumni. You’ll be shocked, even in our world of billable hours, just how willing they are to invest in YOU.
It sometimes feels hard to “pay back” your mentors, because they already have so much. “Thank you” starts feeling like it’s not enough after all the help you’ve been provided. However, I’ve got an idea for how to truly show that you’re grateful for their mentorship. Pass it on. Be prepared to pay it forward. Invest in others, develop that community and support network. And don’t wait until you’ve “made it.” I know that there are rising 1Ls about to step foot on campus for the first time that can use my help, and I intend to give it to them. I remember how much the smallest bit of advice or encouragement meant when I was in their shoes. In fact, it can’t wait and it couldn’t be more important with the issues of mental health challenges and substance abuse facing the law student community. As a 2L, and beyond, I’m excited to be both a mentor and a mentee, and to try to show as much kindness and generosity as so many people have shown to me.
THANKS to everyone who played a role in getting me to where I am today! YOU make this journey all the more worthwhile.