In our “Why Mentoring Matters” series, DLA Piper partner Matt Schwartz says it has been a privilege to mentor law students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds and first in their families to graduate from high school or college. As co-founder of the Legal Mentor Network, he encourages other lawyers to mentor and explains how technology makes it easier to do so in a meaningful way.
If you are active on LinkedIn, you might have seen Perkins Coie LLP’s partner Brian Potts’ post in which he shares a picture of the 20-year-old form rejection letter from his current firm that now hangs on the wall of his office. The caption reads: “Law students: if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.”
When Brian was looking for volunteers across the country to help mentor law students in 2021, I had the privilege of being one of the first to heed to call. I wanted to help, but struggled with how to reach people and really make a difference.
Not long after signing up to mentor, I was matched with several law students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds who didn’t have lawyers in their families to help guide them on their path to a legal career. Some were the first in their family to go to college or even graduate high school. I knew right away that this was a way to make a difference, and, working alongside Brian and others, the seeds that grew into the Legal Mentor Network were planted.
Today, DLA Piper is a founding member firm of the Legal Mentor Network, and Brian, myself, and the other founders are committed to providing mentorship to any law students and practicing attorneys across the country who request it. Since launching in late 2021, the nonprofit network has matched hundreds of mentees with mentors and is rapidly scaling.
Our slogan is “A Brain to Pick, an Ear to Listen, and a Push in the Right Direction.” Providing that support to people who otherwise wouldn’t have it, including women and lawyers of color who are underrepresented in this industry, is a no-brainer.
I’ve had people ask me about becoming a mentor, and I tell them to just do it. Jump in with both feet. Lawyers are busy, but sometimes a couple of conversations with a mentee can make all the difference. Legal Mentor Network mentors come from every sector in the legal industry, including private practice, in-house, nonprofit, and the government.
In the past, the reality was that there wasn’t a lot of “out-of-office” mentoring done at firms. Technology has turned that upside down. You don’t even have to leave home to be a mentor. Now, I can mentor someone in a different office, in a different state, in a different time zone. I can meet their kids and their pets. And mentees have access to a whole world of mentors who may live thousands of miles away.
Technology is also what drives the mentor network matching process. Mentees can indicate when they sign up at the Legal Mentor Network that they don’t just want legal mentorship, they want someone who can talk to them about M&A, or technology, or IP litigation. As lawyers become more specialized in their industries, mentees need more specialized advice, and we’re able to match them with mentors with that in mind.
We’ve made a big impact on the people that have been mentored through this network.
For example, not long after volunteering to mentor, I spoke with a law student who was about to graduate. Between March of his third year and taking the bar, he was planning to do a dozen different things. I told him to stop everything and just focus on the bar exam. Studying for the bar is 10-12 hours of study a day, two hours for exercise, eating, and showering, and the rest for sleep. It was such simple advice, but no one he knew had been to law school and could tell him what to expect.
I got an email from him recently, and he said: “Hey man, you were right. I forgot about everything else, worked my tail off, and now I’m a lawyer.”
And when you see the high impact to the mentee, it becomes high impact to the mentor. It feels amazing to be making a difference and, in many ways, open the legal industry to a new group of people who have the ability to shape it for the better.
I coach my son’s youth baseball team, and last year, we won the league championship and then went on to win the seven-year-old West Zone PONY World Series. But the goal had never been to win. The goal was to take every single kid and make them better by the end of the season than they were when they started.
There’s an apt analogy here with the Legal Mentor Network—we talk about wanting to reshape the legal industry, make it more diverse, and provide resources to people who don’t otherwise have them. And that’s what we’re doing, one person, one lawyer, one mentee at a time. Every impact that we make is a cumulative impact on the industry.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
Matt Schwartz is a partner at DLA Piper in San Diego and leads the firm’s Venture & Growth Lending practice. He is a co-founder of the Legal Mentor Network.