Thriving Lawyers

By Micah Sucherman, Mentor
Associate, Gibson Dunn

I’ve assumed from the beginning that being a LAW SCHOOL … Sí Se Puede mentor would be a challenge.  With a few months of mentoring under my belt, though, it’s fair to say that I was completely off the mark in understanding what kind of challenge it would be.  I assumed that my mentee, Carolina, would be a little like I was when I started college—bright, hardworking, a little bit interested in becoming a lawyer, and without any idea of how to get there.

I was off the mark.  Carolina is certainly bright and hardworking, but she is also determined, ambitious, disciplined, and deliberate.  There is no question that she could, with or without a good mentor, attend the law school of her choice and embark on a successful career.  So I’ve been forced to ask myself this question:  How do you mentor a person who is capable of achieving their goals without a mentor?

The answer, I think, lies in understanding what makes for a thriving lawyer.  We are all familiar with the demands that our chosen careers sometimes place on us—the tough cases, the sometimes-difficult relationships with opposing counsel, the judges with strict but inconvenient deadlines.  We balance these challenges against the obligations we have to our friends and families, and quite often to ourselves.  And many of us fail to strike the right balance as often as we succeed.  A case could be made that a thriving lawyer is one that is able to find ways to manage these competing demands while maintaining enthusiasm for and dedication to our chosen profession. 

What Carolina and I often discuss is developing the habits and the mindset to successfully manage her already crowded list of obligations.  We talk about how to balance her pre-law school goals (good grades, the right letters of recommendation, etc.) with the demands inherent in trying to have an enjoyable and memorable college experience.  Should she take a weekend to visit family, or should she devote that weekend to the library?  Should she study abroad for a semester, or should she use that time to focus on pre-law classes?  There are almost never “right” answers to these types of questions, just as there are rarely “right” answers to how we, as lawyers, manage our time (should I finish this brief tonight, or should I hang out with my family, get up early, and finish it tomorrow?).  But by helping our mentees learn how to ask and answer these questions for themselves, we might be able to help them do more than become lawyers.  We might be able to help them thrive as lawyers.


LAW SCHOOL…Sí Se Puede : Not Just Any “Pipeline”

By Philip Nickerson, Mentor
University of Denver – Sturm College of Law

The beauty of LAW SCHOOLSí Se Puede is that each fellow has multiple mentors to rely on for guidance and encouragement as they blaze their trails towards becoming the diverse attorneys and leaders of the future. In a profession where minorities are greatly underrepresented, having a support system plays a vital role in ensuring a fellow’s dream of law school does not go unfulfilled.

Yet LAW SCHOOL… Sí Se Puede is more than a program that fosters the growth of our future diverse attorneys. It's a program that fosters the growth of our future diverse role models. Today’s fellows will inherently become the role models for the next generation of great legal minds. The ripple effect that LAW SCHOOL… Sí Se Puede fellows are creating will continue to spread until it inspires the students of color everywhere.

I grew up in a small Texas town of just over 5,000 where the only role models of color my friends and I had to look up to did not go to college, were involved in drugs, or were in jail. With no positive examples to look up to our dreams were limited in scope. For instance, in middle school my friends and I dreamed of nothing outside of high school athletic glory. As our high school days wound down and we began to realize that the glory would soon fade, many of us quit dreaming altogether. Lacking examples of successful women and men of color, we had no one to turn to with questions regarding possible career goals and the paths necessary to obtain them. As a result, I ended up being one of 5 students of color from my graduating class to pursue college and obtain a bachelors degree. Many of my classmates have followed the well-worn path toward no further education, abuse of drugs, and jail time.

When I agreed to give four years of my time as a mentor with LAW SCHOOL… Sí Se Puede , I did so knowing that I would aid in the creating a role model for young kids of color. I knew that the words of advice, the text messages of encouragement, and the phone calls to just “check-in” with my mentee over the next four years would not only help my him achieve his goal of attending law school, but also give future generations of diverse students something greater to aspire. My mentee, as a freshman in college, is already showing of becoming the role model I want my children to look up to. The true beauty of the LAW SCHOOL… Sí Se Puede fellowship program is the exponential effect four years of mentorship of one fellow can have on generations to come.

A Chance Meeting, Yet Such An Important One

By Juan Villaseñor, Mentor
Assistant United States Attorney, District of Colorado

I met a lawyer for the first time when I was 19 years old. Of all places, it was in traffic school, in San Francisco, California, where we both were trying to keep points off our license for a minor traffic violation! A chance meeting, yet such an important one because he became my friend and mentor, and the reason I went to law school.

It was thus natural for me that to become a mentor for LAW SCHOOL … Sí Se Puede. One of things I enjoyed most with my first lawyer-friend and mentor was that he invited me to his office and to lawyer dinners and other events. This is how I learned about what lawyers do and about their social circles. It helped me understand his professional universe. 

With that in mind, I recently invited Jasmine, my fellow, to my office. I gave her a mini-tour and explained how the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney's Office works, the many types of cases we handle, and how cases are assigned. I know we gave Jasmine a lot of information to process! She had no idea about some of the things my office does, and was very interested in the matters we handle. Afterward, we headed to Judge Arguello's courtroom to see a short hearing in a civil case. And we then stayed to visit with her.  

Experiences like this make an impression upon and provide valuable information to the LAW SCHOOL … Sí Se Puede fellows. It is good to demystify what a career and a job may look like. My own similar experiences certainly did and allowed me to picture myself as one day holding a career in the law. I hope Jasmine had a similar experience.

Why Should Becoming A Lawyer Be Up To Luck?

By Franz Hardy, Mentor
Partner, Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhni, LLP

I feel privileged to serve as a mentor for LAW SCHOOL … Sí Se Puede.  Growing up, I did not know of any resource like this and, despite this, feel very lucky to have finished college, law school, and to go on to be a practicing lawyer.  However, why should becoming a lawyer or a professional be up to luck?  Judge Arguello has focused on a period of time for young students where they need guidance and are mature enough to begin accepting career advice.  Her program provides real resources and information should a student want to pursue a career in the law.  I am fortunate to be matched with a student who seems eager and dedicated to reaching her dreams despite humble beginnings.  Recently, she came to my office and we toured the various nearby courthouses and met with Judge Arguello.  The student was awed and inspired by this experience.  She realizes that this is all available to her if she takes the right steps starting now.  LAW SCHOOL … Sí Se Puede can show her the path.  LAW SCHOOL … Sí Se Puede is a program that I just wish I could have been involved in as a young student, but at least I can give back through it now.  Thank you, Judge Arguello.

If Only I Knew Then, The Things I Know Now.

By Antonio Gallegos, Mentor
Of Counsel, Greenberg Traurig

As a young student, there was a quite bit I didn’t know about pursuing an undergraduate degree, a law degree and a legal career.  LAW SCHOOL … Sí Se Puede is the perfect vehicle for me to help today’s students learn some of the things I struggled with along the way and after becoming a lawyer.

I come from a working class family. No one on my mom’s side had ever graduated from college.  My father was the first in his family to do it.  But he took a non-traditional path, joining the military, then taking a civil service job through a program that paid for his night school tuition.  Neither my mother nor father had any personal experience from which they could draw to help guide me through college course selection and finding part-time jobs that would strengthen my law school application and resume. 

Both my mother and father were extremely helpful and supportive and I am eternally grateful to them.  But there were things I simply did not know in the same way as other students whose parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents had gone through college, law school, or graduate school.  In fact, the idea of continuing my education beyond a Bachelor’s degree did not occur to me until 2-3 years after starting college. 

I always thought working hard and getting good grades was all I needed to succeed.  Maybe that’s 95% of the battle, but it’s not always enough to get your foot in the door at law school or the job you really want. 

As an undergraduate looking for part time work during the school year and full time work during the summer, I did not appreciate how the quality of my work experience really matters.  I was focused on how much I would be paid and shunned the idea of unpaid internships or jobs that paid only a small stipend.  Having talked to other lawyers about the paths that led them to where they are, I now realize that I could have taken unpaid or modestly paid positions, worked part time and still would have been able to pay rent, buy food, and have a little fun and free time.  Not only would I have gained valuable experience to help set me part from others, I would have started making the type of networking contacts that I did not start making until my first couple of years as a lawyer. 

Fifteen years into my legal career, I see how I could have done things a little differently to help myself advance more quickly.  I look forward to sharing these insights with young students from similar and less fortunate backgrounds.  I don’t claim to have figured everything out.  I welcome the opportunity to continue learning as I continue my legal career and from my LAW SCHOOL … Sí Se Puede Fellow.