Law Alumna Creates Volunteer Mentorship Program for First-Year Law Students
Retired Kentucky Supreme Court Clerk Susan Stokley Clary, a 1981 graduate of the law school at University of Kentucky, said she could not fathom being a successful law student without social interaction with peers and law professors.
“Law school is an arduous task in the best of circumstances,” Clary said.
In 2020, Clary wanted to do something to help law students at the University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law as they adapted to learning from home because of the pandemic.
Clary contacted administrators and staff at the law school and ultimately developed a volunteer mentorship program, pairing first-year law students with law school alumni.
“We developed a form because I wanted to have some information to find them a good match,” Clary said. The form asks students for their alma mater, undergraduate major, hometown, type of law that interests them, etc. For the first matches, Clary researched potential mentors on her own and called on friends and acquaintances. Now, alumni interested in the program are asked to complete a mentor form and provide information that will help in pairing alumni and students with some commonalities.
“I want first-year law students to not feel like they’re in it alone,” Clary said. “There is light at the end of the tunnel. They will be successful and have an experienced lawyer tell them that.”
Mentors introduce themselves to their mentee via email, and then they work together to decide how and when to communicate. Clary said she hopes all the mentors will make at least a three-year commitment to the first-year students, seeing them all the way through law school. In addition, the mentorship program is a chance for law alumni to get reconnected to the law school, especially since students have now returned to in-person learning in the law building.
“We have a great new dean who wants to connect with our law alumni,” Clary said. “This is an opportunity for them to pay it forward, to help out people who are just starting in their law career, and to come see the beautiful new building.”
Anna Stewart Whites, a 1990 law graduate and a mentor in the program, remembers how much acquiring a mentor helped her in law school. She said law school was “like learning a foreign language,” and she felt clueless and frustrated until she got a job with a solo practitioner in Lexington within weeks of starting law school.
“He showed me what practicing law was really about,” she said. “He dragged me to court, let me write deposition questions and see how they worked when he asked them to a witness, and so on. I was exhausted, busy, and loving every minute of it. I worked fulltime all three years of law school and found law to be the most wonderful, fascinating, enthralling thing ever.”
Whites said she still feels that way 33 years later, and she is eager to help other law students have the same experience.
“It took seeing the why behind the case law and being part, firsthand, of the engaging and captivating way the law and courts actually work to make me love law school,” she said. “I want so much to share that with others.”
Emily Puckett, a first-year law student who applied for the mentorship program in 2021, said she thinks working with a mentor will help her broaden her knowledge of the law. As a first-generation law student, Puckett wants to learn more about the vast and diverse opportunities for lawyers.
“I hope my mentor can help guide me as a I seek my place in the legal field where my skills, passions, and experiences intersect with the needs of my community,” Puckett said.
If you're interested in becoming a mentor, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.