About the program

Quality Control and Assessment

The objectives of the Mentor Externship Program are continually evaluated, and assessment tools are used to guide the supervision and administration of the externship with a focus on the highest level of quality control and supervision. The primary methods of assessment include:

  • Self-directed learning through individual goal plans (Personal and Professional Development Plans)
  • Contact with each student/mentor pair mid-year
  • Anecdotal reports from students and mentors
  • Required electronic record keeping (student mentor logs) with administrative supervision and feedback
  • Curriculum evaluation and discussion with mentor externship faculty
  • Student perspective and evaluation through the Student Government Mentor Externship Advisory Committee
  • Year-end evaluations and feedback from students, mentors and faculty

At the end of each year, all student on-line mentor logs are compiled for evaluation, assessment and review. Particular emphasis is given to:

  • Whether the externship objectives are being met, including an evaluation of professionalism issues
  • Whether students are actively engaged in their mentor relationships.                                    
                                                                                                   

Curriculum

Successful participation in the Mentor Externship Program is required all three years of law school.  Students are required to maintain their mentor relationship and fulfill the Mentor Externship requirements in a timely and professional manner.

First Year students focus on developing good relationships with their mentors and logging 18 hours of fieldwork.  Students receive guidance on professionalism, communication, time management, and making the most of mentor relationships through programs held throughout the year.  The first year has no seminar component, and no academic credit is earned.

Second- and third-year students complete 30 hours of fieldwork per year while maintaining good relationships with their mentor.  In addition, students take a required one credit seminar each year.  The seminars are taught by full and part time faculty.  These "Faculty Mentors" teach up to 16 students in small group classes and assist students in meeting their self-defined objectives throughout the year.   Students attend four large group programs and two small group classes, participate in class discussion, and complete writing and reading assignments.  Students meet individually with their Faculty Mentors each semester to receive evaluation and guidance on their progress in their professional journey.

Our Mentors

As members of a self-governing profession, lawyers and judges are called to assist in the training and preparation of our next generation of lawyers. Our mentors respond to that calling.

Over 550 lawyers and judges currently volunteer as mentors in the program. Mentors reflect the diversity of the profession in all its forms including age, gender, ethnicity, practice area, geographic location and religion. Mentors also represent all sectors of the profession: private practice (solo to large firm), local, state and federal government, non-profit and public interest organizations, in-house, public defenders, and the judiciary, including state and federal district courts, the appellate courts, specialty courts and Administrative Law Judges.

Each mentor is asked to contribute 12-15 hours a year to the program. Many mentors voluntarily contribute more than 15 hours a year. 
 
This one-of-a-kind community of students, mentors, and faculty, informed by faith and reason, presents a credible and realistic view of our profession and fosters a commitment to the ideals of the profession. Students develop a profound understanding of "real world" issues and a keen awareness that the success and health of the profession rests in the hands of the next generation of lawyers. This program prepares students for service and leadership.

Just as internal leadership support is critical to the success of the program, so is external servant leadership. Servant leadership is a philosophy that allows every individual to realize his or her full professional potential and personal growth in an ethical and caring environment. A critical piece of the St. Thomas program is training law students to be servant leaders who exemplify the highest ideals of our profession. Mentors, serving as role models, should themselves be servant leaders who exemplify these qualities. 

Reflective Lawyering

The opportunity to fully appreciate and understand professionalism issues is further enhanced through the concept of reflective lawyering. The objectives of the program draw on the habit and skill of reflective lawyering. Working in concert with the hands-on application and required framework of the program, reflective lawyering is a key aspect of the Mentor Externship. The classroom discussions further the objective of reflective lawyering, a concept centered around the idea that students benefit from hearing about other mentors’ approaches to the same issues, and about other students’ perceptions of what they have experienced. 

Professionalism

The understanding of professionalism on which the Mentor Externship Program is built flows out of the tradition of the learned professions in general and the Preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct in particular. In the tradition of the learned professions, society and the members of a profession form an unwritten social compact whereby the members of the profession agree to restrain self-interest, to promote the ideals of the profession (particularly public service) and to maintain high standards of minimum performance, while society in return allows the profession substantial autonomy to regulate itself through peer review.

To maintain the social compact and its autonomy, a profession must create peer cultures both of effective maintenance of minimum standards and of high aspiration in terms of professional ideals. Healthy peer cultures depend on the life-long formation of the moral compass of each professional and ethical leadership from within the peer collegia that fosters both effective peer review and high aspiration.

Professionalism and ethics have always been central themes for the program. However, the School of Law did not anticipate the extent to which the program would: (1) identify professionalism issues in terms of communication, record-keeping and meeting deadlines (2) provide an opportunity to educate students about those issues, and (3) better prepare them for life as a professional. Working with a lawyer or judge in the community requires students to focus on a number of professionalism skill sets that are not necessary for or tested in the classroom. Students are called to navigate these issues, in a very objective sense, just as lawyers and judges do on a daily basis. Functioning at the aspirational level, the program allows students to navigate difficult issues alongside a servant leader who exemplifies the highest standards and aspirations.

What has emerged since the programs inceptions is a portrait of professionalism challenges for students that mirror professionalism challenges for lawyers. The parallels are striking, and call for innovative and effective effort not only to identify personal weaknesses and future ethical challenges but also to move students to the highest level of ethical and professional behavior for the betterment of our profession and the communities we serve. 

The award-winning Mentor Externship Program is one of the most distinctive and innovative components of the School of Law. It combines hands-on experience with thoughtful reflection and gives each student a truly personal view of the legal profession.

Each year of law study, students are paired with a respected lawyer or judge in the community. Mentors introduce students to the work of lawyers and judges, through observation and hands on experiences with a range of legal tasks and activities such as depositions, client meetings or appellate arguments. Beyond introducing students to 
lawyering responsibilities, mentors share the traditions, ideals and skills necessary for a successful law career. Mentors also help students understand professionalism in ways that traditional classroom lecture cannot capture.

Over the course of three years, students build meaningful relationships with members of the bench and bar. More than 550 lawyers and judges currently volunteer as mentors in the program, and as a group they reflect the diversity of the profession in all its forms, including age, gender, ethnicity, practice area, geographic location and religion. Mentors also represent all sectors of the profession: private practice (solo to large firm), all levels of government, nonprofit and public interest organizations, in-house counsel, prosecutors, public defenders, and nearly all levels of the judiciary.

In addition to time spent with mentors, first year students attend large group programs to introduce them to concepts of professionalism, time management and other skills they will use in their mentor relationships. Upper level students participate in a classroom component led by faculty mentors designed to integrate students’ mentor experiences and better prepare students for the practice of law by introducing them to topics that include building and maintaining mentor relationships, navigating professional challenges, personal marketing, networking, and effective communication.

The program’s excellence has twice been recognized by the American Bar Association. In 2005, the program received the coveted E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award, which recognizes projects contributing to the understanding of professionalism among lawyers. Also in 2005, the Mentor Externship Program was one of three national finalists for an American Bar Association award on innovations in teaching professionalism.  The program ranked #1 in the country for having the most externship placements for full time students for the past two years by National Jurist (2010 and 2011 ABA Data).