Mentoring, Pro Bono Play Important Role at UT Law - Articles

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Posted by: Robert Morgan on May 19, 2014

Civility in the bar. Professional development. Academic success. Responsibility to the public. These issues are the subject of conversations taking place across the country in law firms and law schools. In addition to the outstanding curricular programming, a cooperative and collegial educational environment, and an entire building full of professionals dedicated to assisting students and graduates identify and appropriately pursue their career objectives, the college of law provides opportunities for students, alumni, and partners of the college to pursue these professional aspirations through two remarkable programs: pro bono and professional mentoring.

The American Bar Association has recognized that law school “is the place and time where expert knowledge and judgment are communicated from advanced practitioner to beginner. It is where the profession puts its defining values and exemplars on display, and future practitioners can begin both to assume and critically examine their future identities.” Both the pro bono and mentoring programs facilitate these goals.

Pro bono programs can assist law schools in fulfillment of these goals as “[p]ro bono is one of the most effective and least costly means of providing skills training and professional development.” Through law school pro bono programming, students are inculcated that public service is an important part of the legal profession; a proposition that has been identified by several authors as being part of the “core competencies” of successful lawyers. Of course, the benefit that individuals receive through advice, counsel, or service that they would have not received but pro bono programs cannot be understated. The college of law’s pro bono program has experienced a renaissance in the last few years, with projects ranging from Vols for Vets (military pro bono), to Pond Gap Elementary School (know your rights presentations), to Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, to Legal Advice Clinics, to Agricultural law projects, to a robust Alternative Spring Break. All told, for each the past 3 years the students of the college have dedicated over 5,000 hours of pro bono service per year.

With respect to mentoring, the ABA suggests that “[r]estructuring the preparation and tutelage of young lawyers to ensure that professionalism ideals become part of each lawyer’s world view can and should be part of the law school experience.” Along these lines, the threefold mission of college’s Mentoring Program is to: (1) foster the highest levels of professionalism and ethics in students; (2) permit attorney participants to gain new perspectives and insights into the practice of law and issues of professionalism, as well as provide a mechanism for attorneys to serve the profession; and (3) expand the role of the college in preparing students to become active, professional, responsible, and contributing members of the legal profession. At the most basic level, the Program seeks to fulfill its mission by providing a format whereby students can engage in conversations with attorneys to discover what life as an attorney is “really” like, coupled with self-reflection to encourage the students to develop their professional goals and aspirations. Evaluation results demonstrate that students that engage in the mentoring program at the college of law experience a tangible difference in their attitudes, views, and goals, within the legal profession; and all for the better.

To become involved in, or to find out more about either of these programs, please contact Brad Morgan.