By Annie Butterworth Jones
The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division is partnering with law schools at Stetson University and the University of Miami on a new mentoring program involving 10 students and 10 lawyers. Set to launch this month, the program will remain small, allowing students to interact with all of the voluntary mentors and to be exposed to a variety of legal jobs.
If the pilot is successful, the division will expand the program statewide, each semester recruiting 10 to 20 new students at Florida’s 11 law schools. The program enlists students in their second and third years and introduces them to a number of mentoring attorneys from a wide range of careers and backgrounds.
“We’re not focusing on young lawyers, and we’re not focusing on more experienced lawyers. We’re just looking for the most reputable, most qualified lawyers we can find,” said Zack Zuroweste, chair of the YLD Law Student Division.
Students registered for this semester’s pilot project submitted three areas of interest, and program leaders use those practice fields to match up students with attorneys who complement their interests. But while other mentoring programs rely on mentor-to-mentee pairs to achieve networking and educational goals, the YLD hopes to utilize a more group-oriented atmosphere.
“Although we’re going to try to pair a mentor with a mentee who’s interested in their field of practice, we also really want these students to get exposed to other areas of the law that they might not realize they’re interested in,” said Zuroweste, who first expressed interest in transactional law before becoming a litigator with The Persante Law Group.
“We want students to be exposed to the real practice of law so that when they graduate, they have a better idea and sense of what they want from the practice. A lot of students begin their journey thinking they’re going to do one thing, and then they realize through law school and through being exposed to different areas that they actually have a passion for a different area.”
Zuroweste and other members of the YLD and the Law Student Division — Lauren Ryan, student president of the Law Student Division; Sean Desmond, YLD president; Paige Greenlee, YLD president-elect; Jill Bell, project leader at Stetson; Ashley Sybesma, project leader at UM; and Madeleine Mannello, Law Student Division co-chair — developed a list of activities to help attorneys introduce mentees to various areas of law practice. Mentors are asked to complete at least five of the activities with their students; suggestions include tours of the mentors’ law offices, client meetings, nonjury trials, evidentiary hearings, and pro bono events.
“When you’re a new law student, you have an idea of what you believe practicing law is like, but when you graduate and you’re actually in the practice of law, there are many aspects that are different,” said Zuroweste.
“I think that by suggesting specific activities — like attending trials, attending depositions, attending an initial meeting with a new client, attending a bar meeting — we give students a real-life perspective of what their careers could be like. And that’s really our goal.”
Participating students are responsible for coordinating meetings with their mentors, a requirement Zuroweste said will not only inspire students to take the initiative in the mentoring process, but will also teach students valuable lessons on attorney communication.
Mentoring relationships are monitored by the Law Student Division governors at each university, and feedback from mentors and mentees will play an important role in how the program proceeds in the coming years.
“This is going to be a process that takes some time and will develop over the years,” said Zuroweste. “We want to get feedback to see what works best for the students and for the lawyers.”
Students and attorneys have already been chosen for the pilot project, but students interested in future opportunities through the project can sign up for emails on the YLD website, www.flayld.org. The Law Student Division also posts announcements of events and opportunities to its Facebook page.