New UVA Law Mentorship Program Prepares Students for Public Service Careers
A new mentorship program at the University of Virginia School of Law is leveraging the school's alumni network to help students interested in public service careers.
The Public Service Alumni Mentors program is run by the school's Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center in conjunction with the Law School's student-run Public Interest Law Association and the Program in Law and Public Service.
After PILA members brought the idea to the Public Service Center, the program launched as a pilot last year to connect students with alumni working in public-interest roles. In all, more than 110 alumni and 60 students have participated, and the program is growing. This fall, the program will accept applications from second- and third-year law students.
"The level of engagement with alumni has increased," said Annie Kim '99, assistant dean for public service and director of the Public Service Center. Kim says she hopes more mentors will make themselves available so the program will be able to expand in its second year.
The program asks matched alumni and students to be in contact via email or phone at least four times.
"I think it's both comforting and exciting for students to be able to talk to alumni about public service careers," said PILA President Sejal Jhaveri, a third-year law student who also serves on the board of the Law and Public Service Program. "As a student, you get really caught up in figuring out what you are going to do right after law school, but being able to talk to alums and hear their experiences is really helpful in knowing that you can get to your dream job eventually, even if it's not the first job you have out of law school. It's also been really amazing to see the varied and impressive careers of UVA law alums."
Kim said the mentors she's spoken with so far have called the experience both fun and rewarding. One of those mentors is Thomas Hall '06, a trial attorney in the Fraud Section of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. Hall had previously been a mentor through a program at his job.
"I loved [my previous experiences] mentoring a law students, but to get to mentor a UVA Law student, specifically, is an especially satisfying and important part of my work," Hall said.
He was paired with 2014 J.D.-MBA graduate and former PILA member Daniel Guarnera. The pairing was timely, said Guarnera.
"I was at the point where I needed to start making decisions about what to do after my clerkship, and Thomas was working in a section of the DOJ I was especially interested in."
Guarnera had also spent one law school summer at the Torts Branch of the Justice Department. He is currently clerking in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for Judge Diane Sykes on the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
It's no accident the two had the DOJ in common. Participants are paired according to location and alignment with both student interest and the mentor's career path in mind.
The Public Service Center paired third-year law student Cat Martin and Allison Lefrak, a 2000 graduate, because of their mutual interest in consumer-protection law.
Lefrak currently is a senior attorney at the Federal Trade Commission, in its Bureau of Consumer Protection's Division of Privacy and Consumer Protection.
"All of my experiences have been in legal services," Martin said. "It is quite useful to hear from someone in the field, but practicing in a different type of setting.
"Having a person to listen to me express all my career-related thoughts, while I process them, has been so helpful. It is really wonderful to have a person listen who actually understands what you're saying. So much of legal career-planning is specific to the area of law in which you hope to practice," Martin said.
In fact, Lefrak and Martin have made plans to stay in contact after this year.
"I had a great time meeting Catherine and talking with her about her public interest career aspirations," Lefrak said. "Serving as a public interest mentor helped me feel connected to the Law School. I'd encourage other alumni practicing in the public sector to consider signing up for the program. The time commitment is not large, and it's a rewarding way to give back to the Law School."
Hall added that he enjoyed sharing what he's learned with Guarnera as well. "By connecting me with a current student, the program gave me a fresh perspective and a great student to advise," Hall said. "It's been great to talk to him about steps to take toward realizing his goal."
Alumni working in the public sector who are interested in participating in the PSA Mentors program should email the Public Service Center to learn more. Interested students should email Jhaveri or Maria Slater.
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.