Name: Lisa Brabbit; Neil Hamilton
Title: Assistant Dean; Associate Dean
School: University of St. Thomas School of Law
Mailing Address:
1000 LaSalle Avenue, MSL 400
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55403

Phone: 651-962-4871
Home Page:
Summary Description:

The Mentor Externship Program is one of the most distinctive and innovative components of the School of Law, focusing on the highest ideals of our profession. The Program has four primary objectives:

• To instill in students a better understanding of the responsibilities of being a professional;
• To provide students with both an experiential window through which to view the professional world and exposure to the diverse spectrum of work that lawyers and judges do;
• To create an intergenerational conversation about the practice of law and the profession;
• To provide students with the opportunity to share with other students and full-time faculty what they are observing and learning through their mentor experiences.

In each year of law study, every student is paired with respected lawyers and judges in the community. Mentors introduce students to a wide range of lawyering tasks and judicial activities and share with them the traditions, ideals, and skills necessary for a successful career. Lawyers and judges who have exemplified the highest standards of professionalism are invited, through personal contact, to participate as mentors.

Each pair is required to engage in a number of lawyering or judicial activities together. Through this hands-on interaction with the bench and bar, students can draw on the skills of a more senior member of the profession to better prepare for life as a lawyer. The environment provides a “real world” framework for each student to test his or her understanding and expectations of professionalism in a way the traditional classroom or lecture cannot capture. Moreover, every student is required to participate each year of law study; not just students who are drawn to clinic work, externships or other programs that intersect the profession.

In addition to completing fieldwork requirements with a mentor, students are also required to attend small group sessions during the year. These sessions are facilitated by a full-time faculty members and mentors. Small group topics include professionalism, ethics, stress management, social justice and other issues either generated through the student’s field placement or otherwise important to the law community. These conversations dramatically expand the information the student receives about the profession and the practice of law.

In spring 2004, the faculty unanimously approved a required, for-credit Mentor Externship that combines fieldwork with a contemporaneous seminar component. Consistent with ABA Standard 305, only second- and third-year students are eligible to earn credit. First-year students are still required to meet all program requirements even though they do not earn credit.

For a summary of student requirements in the non-credit earning program, please refer to the Student Manual or the Mentor Manual (both Email attachments). For a summary of student requirements in the credit earning program, please refer to the syllabus for the Mentor Externship Seminar (Email attachment).

The community of participants in the program currently includes 360 students and 425 mentors. Training sessions are provided to both students and mentors at the start of each year. The program begins in August and concludes in May.
Program History:

The Mentor Externship Program has been a required part of the curriculum since the School of Law’s founding in 2001. The original idea of the program flowed from two premises: (1) observation of skilled and ethical professionals offers critical modeling opportunities in the socialization of new students into the profession; and (2) student-centered moral discourse in small groups to integrate readings, observed experiences, personal reflection and peer discussion is the best way to foster the habit and skill of reflective lawyering.

To date, over 665 pairs have been monitored, observed, and evaluated over an annual cycle with 360 currently completing a fourth academic year. Mentor and student evaluations, anecdotal evidence, faculty discussions, student forums, extensive data collection and other assessment tools have guided changes in the program. Several important changes in the externship’s history are highlighted below.


In the fall of 2004, thirty students seized limited enrollment opportunities in the credit-earning mentor externship seminar. In the fall of 2005, each second- and third-year student will be required to enroll in the credit-earning seminar and each student will earn one academic credit per year, for a total of two credits during his or her legal education. In 2005, 260 second- and third-year students will participate in the credit-earning Mentor Externship. Adjunct faculty will assist in teaching the seminar component. Class size will be limited to no more than 18 students per section.

Curricular opportunities have also grown in the area of approved experiences and templates. What was once a list of 18 approved experiences is now a list of over 135 approved experiences representing the diversity of practice areas and legal opportunities. An intentional correlation was developed between the law school curriculum in each year and the guided student activities in the externship. Also, over three dozen templates have been developed for students and mentors to facilitate and guide conversation about a given topic. Please refer to the student and mentor manuals for a list of experiences and templates.

Since 2002, Mentor Externship has required each student to develop a Personal and Professional Development Plan (PPDP) outlining specific, identifiable and achievable goals for the externship built on a platform of self-awareness and first principles. Each student is also required to write a personal ethics mission and share it with his or her mentor.

Quality Control and Assessment

As outlined above, the Externship uses a variety of assessment tools to identify opportunities to improve quality control. One of the most valuable tools developed in the program has been the on-line mentor log. Students are required to record contemporaneously all activity in the program. The input allows for the opportunity to evaluate student activity and how each student processes the activity through journaling. One of the most important aspects of the on-line mentor log was the opportunity to spot and teach about professionalism issues. These issues are discussed in more detail in Section D1 “Expanded Program Description” below. To access the log, please contact Lisa Montpetit Brabbit.

Confidential Items:
Please note that all included materials are copyrighted.

Expanded Program Description (Optional):

Ethics and professionalism have always been central themes for the program. However, the School of Law did not anticipate the extent to which the program would identify professionalism issues, provide an opportunity to educate students about those issues, and 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. The School of Law expects students to demonstrate strong professionalism skills when interacting with lawyers and judges. However, neither students nor mentors are completely immune from professionalism pitfalls. What has emerged is a portrait of professionalism challenges for students that mirror professionalism challenges for lawyers.

For example, poor communication skills among lawyers is a perennial complaint to the Office of Professional Responsibility, and generally the number one complaint each year (e.g. failing to return phone calls or e-mails). This common scenario presents problems both for the lawyer who fails to communicate, and for the individual who is seeking to connect with an unresponsive member of the profession. The mentor externship catches both categories.

Mentors have communicated to the Director instances where students are either unresponsive, or failing in communication. This situation allows the Director to (1) connect with the student and to discuss this important professionalism issue, and the challenges involved with juggling a demanding schedule, and (2) to outline a plan for improving this skill.

Students have also communicated to the Director instances where mentors are either unresponsive, or failing in communication. Each situation is carefully reviewed and analyzed to determine if the student can improve his or her communication skills or professional persistence to improve the situation. When appropriate, other options are discussion and reviewed with the student. If the mentor remains unresponsive, the student is paired with another mentor.

Another professional skill that often ranks high on the list of ethical violations for the profession is accurate record keeping and billing. Each student is required to practice the skill of contemporaneously recording all activity in the externship and applying the same principles that guide lawyers in the profession. Students are told that the Director is the client, and each entry in the log will be carefully reviewed to evaluate whether the student earns credit. The professional counterpart for credit is payment for services. This exercise has provided each student with a personal framework to test strengths and weaknesses of record keeping skills, discuss recording keeping issues with his or her mentor, and struggle with moral and ethical issues related to billing (i.e. can a student log travel time for driving to school to see an experience on a day they will be in class? Would a lawyer bill a client for time driving to the office?)

Other professionalism and/or potential ethical issues that arise through the program include:

- lack of diligence / neglect (e.g., the student waits until the end of the year to complete the requirements, now creating a crisis for the mentor);
- the inability to manage expectations, a key skill for client relations;
- understanding the importance of building positive and strong relationships;
- understanding the paradigm shift from consumer mentality (student) to service mentality (lawyer);
- meeting deadlines and working with existing structures (for example, litigators are required to work with in the court structure to move a case forward);

The opportunity to fully appreciate and understand professionalism issues is further enhanced through peer discussion. Each student is required to participate in small group peer discussion. The moral psychology literature demonstrates that peer discussion of moral issues and dilemmas is the best-known method for developing adults' moral reasoning capability. By sharing their own ideas and responding to others' thoughts, students improve their thinking and deepen their understanding of important issues.

Supporting Materials:

1. Mentor Manual and Student Manual (pdf file) (includes, among other things, program requirements, list of suggested experiences, templates for professional discussions, summary of attorney-client privilege, and an agency relationship agreement);
2. Mentor Externship Syllabus (pdf file)
3. Summary of Skills for Mentor Externship (memo)
4. Resume of Lisa Montpetit Brabbit
5. Resume of Neil W. Hamilton (pdf file)