No One Gets There Alone – The Value of Mentorship Programs in the Legal Profession

No One Gets There Alone
While serving in the U.S. Army, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by wise and compassionate sergeants who regularly reminded me to “take care of soldiers,” and that “no one gets there alone.” That is the recognition that even the most accomplished, high-speed service members have leaned on the support of caring instructors, mentors, and peers along the way. And I knew that principle to be true, as countless sergeants and junior enlisted folk took care of me as an officer and kept me straight. 

As I transitioned out of the Army and into law school, I appreciated the continued importance of mentorship. Friends who had already navigated law school admissions patiently edited drafts of my personal statement. Later, when I was a summer associate, law firm partners sat me down, instructed me to apply for clerkships, and took a red pen to my application materials. Caring professors went out of their way to write thoughtful letters of recommendation and made phone calls to judges on my behalf.

Now at Zuckerman Spaeder, I’m thankful for partners and senior associates who provide mentorship on litigation skills ranging from legal writing and taking depositions.

The Critical Importance of Pipeline Mentorship Programs
Having been helped by so many folks along the way, I recognize not only the duty to pay it forward, but the critical need for mentorship in the legal profession. The lack of diversity in the legal profession is well documented.1 There are numerous levers to increase diversity in the legal profession, and specifically among judicial law clerks. 

Among these, pipeline programs serve a critical role in helping to ensure that our profession better reflects our country’s varied backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. I am fortunate to serve as a mentor with two outstanding non-profit organizations. Service to School (S2S) provides free college and graduate school application counseling to military veterans and service members. In addition to working with law schools and judges, Law Clerks for Diversity (LCD) pairs students and recent graduates with mentors, who provide a better understanding of the benefits of clerking and how to navigate the application process. Echoing the sage advice of my sergeants, LCD’s mission recognizes that “everybody who ‘makes it’ has help.”

While serving as a mentor might seem daunting if you don’t share your mentee’s background or if you have limited mentorship experience, much of the value you bring is just showing up. A first-generation law student whom I work with explained that she finds these pipeline programs invaluable because she can connect with a mentor who has “survived” law school admissions or the clerkship application process. She has appreciated speaking with former clerks who have actually reviewed clerkship applications for their judges, and with attorneys who—by the very fact of going to law school—are familiar with the profiles and experiences of their classmates. 

Thanks to the pipeline programs, my mentee knows that a competitive applicant doesn’t look just one way, and that her experiences also line up with folks who have made it. The mentee highlighted that without these mentorship programs—and without a lawyer in her family—she would largely be left to the (misguided) speculation and limited anecdotes often shared among anxious applicants (e.g., “You won’t get a clerkship if you’re not on Law Review.”). These conversations often discourage students from underrepresented backgrounds, who might already be on the fence, from applying at all.

What Mentorship Looks Like on the Ground
I fully acknowledge that my particular experience has helped me to support veteran applicants and applicants of color, but I guarantee that mentorship duties require little more than a willingness to share experiences, a little empathy, and a lot of Track Changes.

As an ambassador in S2S’s Law School Group, I assist current and former service members to share their stories through law school application essays. Many service member applicants are reluctant to share stories of hardship, for fear of sounding entitled or weak. However, with some active listening and a few questions, I have prodded mentees to open up and discuss their compelling stories—a medal with valor earned in combat, or obstacles overcome, like homelessness or severe substance abuse. Finally convinced that admissions officers will not be scared off, mentees have described in vivid detail the trials that defined their service. Much of mentorship then becomes helping the applicant describe their experiences—both in their personal statement and resume bullets—in language accessible to admissions officers. 

As an LCD mentor to prospective clerkship applicants, most of my work has entailed pulling back the curtain and talking about what it means to be a clerk. I have worked with my mentees to draft compelling cover letters that highlight their experiences as first-generation law students and how those experiences will enable them to be great clerks. I have explained to mentees that clerking demands exceptional legal research and writing skills, but it also involves managing deadlines and navigating the competing priorities of drafting proposed orders for the semiannual Civil Justice Reform Act (CJRA) list, criminal matters, and more urgent applications for injunctive relief. And so I persuaded a mentee to highlight in her cover letter and resume the part-time, not-so-glamorous jobs she worked during college to support herself, because judges will understand that she has a strong work ethic, can manage stress, and navigate competing deadlines—all key traits of a great clerk. 

Much of being a mentor in a pipeline program is explaining to first-generation mentees that their particular experiences will be respected and valued, and working with them to share those stories in an accessible way. 

Get Involved
There are numerous structural reforms that the legal community should take to improve diversity within the profession. In the meantime, getting involved in a pipeline mentorship program is a relatively easy, low-commitment way to help ensure that our profession reflects our country’s diverse backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. And if you don’t already have a mentee, serving as a mentor will better develop your own connection to law students and young lawyers from underrepresented backgrounds. Finally, as lawyers who have leaned on others for help, we have a duty to support these pipeline programs as a quiet recognition that no one gets there alone.

1Lawyers by Race & Ethnicity, Am. Bar Ass’n, (last visited June 1, 2023); Jeremy Fogel, Mary S. Hoopes & Goodwin Liu, Law Clerk Selection and Diversity: Insights From Fifty Sitting Judges of the Federal Courts of Appeals, 137 Harvard L. Rev. (forthcoming 2023), available at SSRN:; Theodoric Meyer & Tobi Raji, Historically Diverse Supreme Court Hears Disproportionately From White Lawyers, Wash. Post . (Oct. 30, 2022),

Information provided on InsightZS should not be considered legal advice and expressed views are those of the authors alone. Readers should seek specific legal guidance before acting in any particular circumstance.

Joshua T. Mathew_Listing

Joshua T. Mathew
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As the regulatory and business environments in which our clients operate grow increasingly complex, we identify and offer perspectives on significant legal developments affecting businesses, organizations, and individuals. Each post aims to address timely issues and trends by evaluating impactful decisions, sharing observations of key enforcement changes, or distilling best practices drawn from experience. InsightZS also features personal interest pieces about the impact of our legal work in our communities and about associate life at Zuckerman Spaeder.

Information provided on InsightZS should not be considered legal advice and expressed views are those of the authors alone. Readers should seek specific legal guidance before acting in any particular circumstance.