Lessons Learned from The Helping Hand Mentoring Program of the Section on Clinical Legal Education

Dear Section Chairs and Chairs-elect:

In this third installment of The Section Counselor, we focus on tips for creating a top-flight mentoring program for junior faculty or professional staff in your section. 

Supporting the professional advancement of members is one of the most valuable functions of AALS Sections. Whether they are new to teaching, mid-career and contemplating a job change, or experienced and hoping to give back to their field and profession, many of your members are eager to exchange knowledge.

Please consider creating a mentorship program to facilitate peer to peer interaction. Some AALS Sections are creatively fostering mentoring relationships in a variety of ways.

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Jodi S. Balsam, Associate Professor of Clinical Law and Director of Civil Externship Programs at Brooklyn Law School, reports that, about five years ago, the Section on Clinical Legal Education created The Helping Hand Mentoring Program – a program that features experienced clinicians supporting newer clinicians to achieve their goals, and in which any clinician at a professional transition point might seek expertise from colleagues. Since that time, the Clinical Section has made over 50 mentor-mentee matches, 17 just in this past academic year. Faculty in need of a mentor or willing to volunteer to serve as one may fill out applications that identify the areas in which they seek or can provide assistance, for example, teaching, clinic design, scholarship, service, and status. The Section reports receiving rave reviews for the program, which has built bridges across law schools nationwide.

The Section on Clinical Legal Education does a number of novel things with its mentoring program. Professor Balsam suggests that other Sections thinking of starting a mentoring initiative should take advantage of technology to facilitate the work of Section members who will run the program. The Membership, Outreach, and Training Committee of the Clinical Section runs the Clinical mentoring program, and set up web-based fillable application forms that automatically download the data to a document shared among committee members. They solicit applications two times a year – usually before the beginning of the academic year and again just before the annual Clinical Conference in May. Committee members collectively spend about 10-15 hours/year making matches and following up with participants, including providing a mentoring handbook with tips for establishing and optimizing on the relationship. The mentoring commitment is for three months – although participants are welcome to continue the relationship – and the committee periodically seeks feedback from the mentoring pairs on the effectiveness of the program. Both mentors and mentees respond that they learn much from each other and the experience, and find it useful to have someone to talk to who is not on the same faculty and can offer a different and new perspective.

One challenge that the Clinical Section reports is that the demand for mentors exceeds the supply. While the Clinical Section continues to recruit actively, they are also considering expanding to offer a peer-to-peer matchmaking service, especially in emerging areas of clinical law where few experienced faculty are available.

Professor Balsam noted: “Mentoring relationships obviously can and do spring up organically in the collegial faculty environment, but a formal mentoring program commits the participants to taking the next steps toward enriching their own professional lives and the academy at large.”

Other Helpful Tips for Creating a Mentoring Program:

  • Know your membership. Your section has its own culture, requirements, career trajectories, and probably even terminology for mentorship. What is it that your members need the most? Is it support at a transition point in their careers? Perhaps they are seeking first-time publishing opportunities? Find out specifically how experienced members may benefit those members that are new to the field.
  • Select an owner and/or convene a subcommittee to organize mentorship activities, in order to create accountability and set objectives for the mentorship program.
  • Browse our Annual Meeting program for sessions that focus on networking and career development, such as the Arc of Career and Works-in-Progress sessions. You might consider holding a speed-networking session, or other event where junior scholars can meet with more established peers at the Annual Meeting.
  • Use your Section’s online listserv and file sharing platform at Connect.AALS.org to share information on your section’s mentoring program and career development activities. You may also consider using these for sharing teaching materials, best practices for teaching in your field, and setting up informal gatherings.

Questions and Comments?

Does your Section currently support mentorship activities? Do you have other ideas or samples that you wish to share with your peers? Tell us about it. Please contact our Manager of Section Services, Patrick Riley, who can be reached at (202) 296-1566 or priley@aals.org or you may contact support@aals.org.

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