J. Reuben Clark Law Society

A Model in Mentoring: Greater New York City Chapter Program

I first met Michael Newton in the Young Women’s room of the LDS chapel in New Canaan, Connecticut. He and his wife Sarah drove up from Westchester, New York, braving the perennial construction on Merritt Parkway, to watch the 2014 J. Reuben Clark Law Society Annual Fireside with a small number of Connecticut attorneys. Though he was at the very beginning of his career, Mr. Newton stood out with the polish of a seasoned attorney. Even after one evening, it was clear that he understood networking—that networking is not asking for a job or using others to climb a corporate ladder. Rather, networking is investing in relationships whether or not they benefit your career. It’s risking sitting in traffic on a Friday night for the opportunity to meet other attorneys who share your values. It’s keeping in touch with colleagues and their families, even after a short meeting.

When the Law Society’s Media Committee decided to feature the Greater New York City Chapter’s Mentorship Program in the Newsletter, I was not surprised to discover that Michael Newton was the inspiration for this program. Mr. Newton graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law in 2012, but the process of getting a job in New York City started long before graduation. Newton contacted several attorneys in New York City, sending e-mails to attorneys he wanted to speak with and attaching his resume to show he was a realistic candidate for the firms he was interested in. Newton recounts that after setting up phone meetings with attorneys, he would speak to them “about their firm and life as an attorney, after which [he] sent a follow-up email asking them to pass along [his] resume. [He] also paid for [his] own flight to New York so that [he] could meet with attorneys and firms in person.” Ultimately, through networking with Randy Guynn and Marc Swenson, Mr. Newton began work at Davis Polk & Wardwell in the Financial Institutions and Capital Markets Groups.

Mr. Newton comments, “Networking has been essential to my career as an attorney. JRCLS members were willing to take the time to speak with me and answer my questions. Many forwarded my resume to their recruiting department and many others also tried to provide additional contacts with whom I could connect. I spoke with many lawyers at many firms, and while the majority of these contacts didn’t result in job offers or even interviews, a few of them did and things worked out well.”

JRCLS attorneys in New York City have a long history of mentoring law students interested in the New York market. For about the past 15 years, the J. Reuben Clark Law School has held an interviewing program in New York City for its students during the first week of August. As a young associate at Kirkland & Ellis, I had the opportunity to host BYU Law students for lunch in our offices in Midtown. Students were able to ask questions about life in New York and working at a large firm.  Beth Hansen, Director of Career Services at BYU Law, reports that “Law Society members have hosted events at their homes for the visiting students, taken students to lunch or dinner, presented information sessions at their firms or offices, and hosted a ‘pre-interview’ conference call in the summer to help students prepare.” But the New York City Chapter’s Mentorship Program extends beyond BYU and strives to reach student members of the Law Society throughout the country. 

Newton’s efforts and experiences became the model for the JRCLS New York City Chapter to develop a broader mentorship program. Todd Mortensen, an attorney in the New York City office of Sullivan & Cromwell, now leads the program. He commented that the program was designed “to help encourage the professional and personal development of practicing attorneys and law school students in the New York City area. The program seeks to establish relationships between experienced attorneys, young attorneys and law school students that will provide the attorneys and students with a resource they can turn to for information, advice and support as they pursue their professional and personal goals.” 

In order to achieve these goals, each year the Greater New York City Chapter compiles a directory of 10 to 12 attorneys who volunteer to serve as mentors to young attorneys and students who presently practice or aspire to practice law in the New York market. The directory is comprised of attorneys from a variety of different law firms, practice areas and law schools. The volunteers provide their name, contact information, firm name, practice area, law school, and undergraduate university to the mentorship program coordinator, who then compiles the list of volunteer mentors into a master directory.

The mentorship program coordinator contacts JRCLS student chapter presidents and career services directors at law schools across the country, and provides them with a copy of the directory. Student chapter presidents and career services directors are instructed to make the directory available upon request to students or attorneys who have expressed an interest in pursuing a career in the New York area. Students and attorneys are encouraged to identify an attorney in the directory with a similar background or practice area interest, and reach out to them to set up an initial phone call or meeting.

Volunteer mentors are asked to commit to one phone call or meeting per quarter with each attorney or student they agree to work with, and to be accessible for occasional questions via e-mail. Attorneys and students are asked to prepare thoughtful questions and topics for discussion prior to contacting their mentors, and to be respectful of their mentors’ time and other commitments. Mentors and mentees may discuss topics such as resume writing, interview preparation, recruiting advice, selecting a firm or practice area, evaluating lateral career moves or offers to work abroad, developing management or leadership skills, and other topics of professional interest. Attorneys and students are also encouraged to seek the advice of their mentors with regards to finding suitable housing arrangements, relocating to or from the New York area, balancing professional and personal commitments, and other topics of personal interest. 

Students who have benefitted from the program, appreciate the service offered by the New York City Chapter. Cameron Leishman, of the Class of 2016 at BYU Law, contacted several attorneys, including Todd Mortensen and Michael Newton, for advice regarding his resume and interviewing style. He comments, “I was very impressed that someone as busy as Todd would be willing to give thoughtful, specific, and immediately useful advice.” Mr. Leishman will be working in New York this summer at Davis, Polk & Wardwell. He says, “The largest hurdle in big firm hiring for BYU students is simply getting that first contact or screening interview, and the mentoring program is invaluable for that. To have a member of the firm I was interested in joining willing to go to bat for me was a huge benefit. The mentors I worked with helped me develop a strategy to market myself to firms, and then to choose between some really great options, in a way that only someone who is intimately familiar with the recruiting process and hiring climate can.”

While the New York City Law Society Chapter hopes mentees from the program will stay in New York permanently, sometimes networking leads to opportunities in other locations.  Michael Newton recently took a job at Dorsey & Whitney LLP in Salt Lake City, Utah. His new role also came from networking. He says, “I met some of the partners at Dorsey before I went to law school and stayed in touch with them over the years. I was back in Utah on vacation and they asked me to come in to interview for an opening. We weren’t planning to leave New York so soon, but it felt like the right opportunity.” His experiences in New York have left him with life-long lessons: “I learned that my work should be perfect and that I should be proactive in solving problems, rather than waiting on others to carry the load.”  Thanks to Mr. Newton’s proactive attitude, others are now benefitting from a program he inspired.

Those interested in learning more about the Greater NYC Chapter Attorney Mentorship Program should contact Todd Mortensen at MortensenT@sullcrom.com.

By Megan Needham, JRCLS Media Committee, with contributions from Todd Mortensen

Posted: May 5, 2015