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Mentorship Program Gives Students Glimpse of Legal Career, Networking Headstart

Each year, Concordia’s Legacy Mentorship program provides students a unique opportunity to interact with lawyers and judges in real time, develop new professional connections and, in some cases, take the first steps along a career path.

As part of the law school’s legal educational program, second-year students are required to take a course that satisfies the professional identity development requirement. But classwork is just the first phase of the experience.

As mentorship program grow in popularity at law schools across the country, Concordia has for several years tapped the value of pairing students one-on-one with legal professionals, from judges to attorneys practicing all aspects of the law.

Assistant Professor Brenda Bauges, who oversees the mentorship program, said the opportunity for students to interact with legal professionals provides the kind of professional insight, support and guidance essential to the overall Concordia experience.

For Shelby Sorensen, the mentorship program has helped answer a big question facing every law student: What happens after graduation? Paired with an attorney with the City of Boise, Sorensen has had the chance to take a deeper dive into the criminal justice system, shadow a pre-trial conference and engage with a public defender, experiences that sparked a passion for an area of the law he didn’t know existed.

“I had never been interested in criminal defense or prosecution, and now, having made the connection with my mentor… I have the opportunity to work with the Boise City Attorney,” Sorensen said. “I’m planning on, mostly likely, going into criminal law just because how interesting it is.”

Concordia administrators and faculty recently hosted a mentor appreciation reception for students in the mentorship program and the attorneys and judges serving as mentors.

“All of you in this room… are helping train our upcoming legal minds in what it means to be an attorney in this profession, and what it means to practice in this community,” she said. “For that, we can’t thank you enough.”

For students, the mentorship experience checks multiple boxes. For some, the benefit is in applying what they’re learning in the classroom to a practical, real-life context. Others appreciate the value in developing professional relationships that could pay dividends down the road.

Second-year law student Matt Ruiz admits to being skeptical, even a bit reluctant, to engage in the mentorship program at first, believing keeping focus on his studies was a better use of his time and energy.

After completing the Professional Identity Development class last semester and then pairing with a mentor, Ruiz acknowledges his perspective has changed.

“When I heard about this program, I was hesitant. I thought, ‘I can make it through school, let me concentrate on that before reaching out (to network),’” said Ruiz, who is mentoring with a private practice criminal attorney in the Spring 2020 semester. “But I’m grateful for it. Overcoming the fear of reaching out to somebody who is living the life as an attorney was one of the greatest things I could have been forced into.”

Classmate Molly McDowell, who is mentoring with an attorney who serves as in-house counsel to St. Luke’s Medical Center in Boise, said the value for her lies in how the experience has broadened her legal horizons.

“We learn all this stuff in law school, but we don’t really know how it’s applied sometimes in the real world,” said McDowell. “It was really nice to see how attorneys who are non-litigators do what they do every day, and to understand the challenges they face.”