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Mentoring & More celebrates 10th anniversary: Professional mentors are an invaluable resource to students

February 17, 2016 | Alumni

When Trischa Snyder Chapman ’10, an associate attorney in the Columbus office of BakerHostetler, began her first year at the Moritz College of Law in 2007, she was, like so many of her peers, understandably nervous.

As a first generation college student —she graduated from Ohio University in 2006 with a degree in communications and Spanish—Chapman, who grew up in Fremont, Ohio, hadn’t had much exposure to the legal profession prior to setting foot in Drinko Hall. Making connections with lawyers outside the halls of her school building seemed, at first, like a daunting task. That is, until she signed up to participate in a mentoring program that had launched two years earlier – Mentoring and More @ Moritz.

Now supported by the BakerHostetler Endowment for Professional Development, Mentoring and More @ Moritz was started by then-Dean Nancy Hardin Rogers, and Pam Lombardi, former director of Alumni Affairs and assistant dean for Career Services, in 2005, as a way to bridge the theory and practice of law by pairing groups of three-to-five students with at least two professional mentors, based on areas of student interest and mentors’ background and practice areas. Throughout the academic year, the mentoring groups are invited to luncheons at the Barrister Club, where they listen to prominent speakers talk about pressing issues and current trends in the law, and then discuss them with students, faculty, and guests. Recently, the program’s structure has changed slightly, so mentors and their students attend a couple of on-campus events together, but spend more time participating in off-campus activities so that students can gain exposure to the actual practice of law.

Classrooms, books, journals, clinics, and close relationships with professors are all integral parts of a Moritz legal education, but for the things that cannot be learned in a classroom, professional mentors are an invaluable resource.

“I didn’t have any family members who were lawyers and I didn’t really know any lawyers, so for me, Mentoring and More was an introduction to the profession,” Chapman said.

The program celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and marked the occasion with an Aug. 25 luncheon in the Barrister Club. Present at the event were some of Mentoring and More’s first mentors— many of whom are still active in the program.

“The objective of Mentoring and More was, and continues to be, to instill in participating law students a deep sense of the ethical and professional obligations embraced by members of the bar, by providing opportunities for them to engage with practicing lawyers who exhibit those ideas,” said Dean Alan C. Michaels in an address to luncheon guests. “Our mentors do a great job in helping our students learn about the expectations they will face and how to meet those expectations— and how to create opportunities for themselves.”

The idea for the program was born out of a concern that, in the early 2000s, the College was at risk of becoming a commuter law school where students didn’t stay on campus much after classes. At a faculty retreat, the faculty expressed a goal of creating a stronger sense of community that nurtured students in ways that a classroom alone cannot. At around the same time, a national conference of chief justices asked to meet with all of the law deans nationally, because they were concerned about an emerging lack of professionalism they were noticing in lawyers in their courtrooms. The chief justices asked if there was anything that legal educators could do to address this issue. Mentoring and More was proposed as a solution for both issues.

Early on in the program, lunches were organized around controversial topics so that students would have the opportunity to witness their mentors engaged in constructive, civil debates and discussions with one another, and learn by example.

To date 1,400 students have completed the Mentoring and More program and 166 students signed up to participate this year.

“One of the best ways to learn about and shape your own character as you enter the profession is to be exposed to some of the very best in the profession, and to see from their example how much they are committed to the excellence of the profession,” Rogers said.

The program, she added, has been equally rewarding for the mentors. “They could see the value they were imparting, and so many of them stayed, remarkably so, for a full 10 years,” she explained. “That’s a huge commitment of volunteer time. Often, people move on from one volunteer activity to another after a couple of years, and the fact they have stayed with us shows they can tell it has made a difference.”

One such mentor, who helped found Mentoring and More and continues to participate, is Judge Norah McCann King ’75.

“I was aware, primarily, of the ethical obligation every lawyer has to give back to the profession, and to the education of young lawyers,” King, a federal magistrate judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, said of her initial involvement. “But, it ended up being so much more than that, too. To see this program grow and develop, and to be reminded of the enthusiastic idealism of young lawyers, is really gratifying. For me and other older lawyers, it serves to rekindle the idealism that we started out with.”

When students ask King for advice, she always tells them that as they enter the legal profession, they do so with “a capital account of goodwill, integrity…and competence,” she said, and they should “never, ever do anything to squander that, because a lawyer’s work truly is his or her bond. No matter how big his or her professional community is, it will never be so big that you’re completely anonymous. That reputation for integrity is priceless, and once lost, I’m not sure it can ever be regained.”

Chapman, who is now serving as a mentor in the program, offers similar advice to her mentees. “Your reputation is your most valuable asset. Guard it, and treat your peers—your fellow law students—well,” she tells them. After all, classmates often become colleagues, bosses, judges, and clients down the road.

Chapman said she views Mentoring and More as “an awesome opportunity to make the practice more approachable for anyone else who, like me, had no idea what I was getting into in my early law school years.”

“I feel so fortunate to have a great group of law students each year who are interested and engaged in the program,” she added. “I really see myself standing in their shoes eight years ago, and it’s good to be able to give back in that way.”