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Crafting a Relationship: A Mentor and Mentee's Perspective

April 2009

This first-person account offers keys to how you could benefit from being on either side of the mentoring equation.

Many lawyers consider themselves to be fortunate if they find a mentor to guide them when they first start practicing law. Liz Grana found a mentor when she was deciding on a college, and that relationship has carried through to the present – the beginning of her legal career at her mentor’s firm. This is how it happened.

Liz Grana:

Mounds of brochures, folders, and postcards from various colleges around the country were routinely spread upon my bed my senior year of high school as I tried to decide which college to attend. I applied and was accepted to various colleges, but, like many seniors, the decision regarding which institution to attend was stressful.

Although I may have been overwhelmed with deciding on a college, I knew that my career path would lead to the law. I had known from an early age that I wanted to become an attorney. This was not because of the glamorous legal dramas on television, but because I was interested in how the law could be used to help people.

Since I knew what I wanted to be when I “grew up,” I just had to choose the place where I would do the growing up. This task seemed insurmountable, until one day when the phone rang.

“Hello, Liz, my name is Dudley McCarter and I am a graduate of Knox College.” The voice on the other end of the phone immediately grabbed my attention. Knox was, after all, among my top choices for college. Dudley continued, “I am calling today because I hear you are interested in Knox and the pre-law program. I wanted to talk with you about that and answer any questions you had about the school.”

By the end of the conversation, I was impressed with both Knox and Dudley McCarter. He graciously offered to answer additional questions from me and promised to stay in touch if I decided to choose Knox. As a result of this conversation, I pulled out my Knox brochure again and began reviewing what Knox had to offer.

Dudley McCarter:

When I first contacted Liz Grana, I had no idea that our paths would continue to cross as they did. From that first conversation, however, I knew that she was someone I wanted to keep in touch with.

I heard about Liz from the women’s basketball coach at Knox College, my alma mater. Knowing that I am always happy to contact prospective student athletes, the Knox coach told me that Liz was exactly the type of person she was looking for to play basketball at Knox. She also told me that Liz had a number of college options, but hoped that I could give her some reasons to decide on Knox. I agreed to call Liz – and I’m glad that I did.

The instant that Liz picked up the phone, I could tell that she was not like most of the high school seniors I had contacted. Typically, they listen to what I have to say about Knox, thank me for calling, but seem uncomfortable asking questions or continuing the conversation. Liz, on the other hand, was eager to learn about my connection with Knox and what I did after graduating from Knox. It was obvious to me that she was someone who wanted to learn as much as she could about all of her options before making her decision. Needless to say, I was delighted to learn sometime later from the Knox basketball coach that Liz had decided on Knox.

Liz Grana:

By the middle of Spring 2002, I decided to attend Knox. Dudley’s phone call served as a catalyst for me to discover the wonderful opportunities Knox had to offer. Additionally, I would be playing basketball for Knox, an added bonus to a great education. Dudley called again to congratulate me on my decision and informed me that he was hoping to plan a trip to Knox in the fall for Homecoming.

I met Dudley for the first time in Fall 2002 at the Knox Homecoming. My athletic director introduced me to him at the football game. During our meeting, I told Dudley that I had been enjoying Knox and the political science class I was taking. Again, Dudley told me to keep him posted on my school progress and to contact him if I needed anything.

Dudley McCarter:

During the fall of that year, my wife and I traveled to Knox for Homecoming. Because I had only talked to Liz on the phone, I thought it might be difficult to find her at the football game. When I arrived at the game, I stopped the athletic director and asked if he could help me find Liz Grana – a student he may not know, because Liz was only a freshman. “Of course, I know who she is”, and he pointed her out in a crowd of several hundred students watching the game. He took us over and introduced us to Liz. Visiting with Liz at the football game confirmed what I had expected – Liz had no problem fitting in right away. I could tell she was excited about the upcoming basketball season and assured her I would be following her basketball career.

Liz Grana:

Throughout the next four years at Knox, Dudley and I kept in contact. He sent me emails congratulating me on sports achievements and relevant legal articles. When it was time to study for the LSAT and choose law schools, I sought his advice about the process and law school in general. Unlike many college students who seemed lost in all the uncertainty of making decisions for law school, I had the invaluable advice of an experienced attorney to help me make sense of a confusing process.

Dudley McCarter:

For the next four years, I kept in touch with Liz. We talked periodically about things of mutual interest – mostly about basketball and her interest in attending law school. (She holds several career records for women’s basketball at Knox). During her senior year, I was happy to share with her my thoughts on the various law schools she had applied to. Ultimately, she decided on Saint Louis University School of Law, which I knew would work out very well for her.

Liz Grana:

During my first year, Dudley invited me to his office to catch up. I had never been to a law firm before, so this prospect was exciting. Once at Behr, McCarter, and Potter, P.C., Dudley inquired about my law school experience. He provided me with recent legal articles and introduced me to his partner, Tony Behr. Like Dudley, Tony welcomed me and made me feel comfortable at the firm.

After this interaction, Dudley and I exchanged emails occasionally about law school. He invited me back to his firm in the Winter 2007. Once at his firm, I met Tony again and another partner, Steve Potter. After an interview with them, they offered me a summer intern position. I gladly accepted.

Dudley McCarter:

During Liz’s first year of law school, we also talked regularly and I knew that she would work as hard as she had done in high school and college to be a success in law school. From time to time, I would send her bar journals and other materials that would give her some insight on the practical application of the courses she had been taking. I also asked her to stop by our office so that she could get a better feel for how a law firm operates.

By the spring of her second year, I knew that she was the type of person we would like to have as an intern and I invited her to meet my partner, Tony Behr. (Tony had already heard about Liz from mutual friends and family members who knew her). After meeting Tony, she also met my other Partner, Steve Potter, who was equally impressed with her. We decided to offer Liz a job as a summer intern.

Liz Grana:

Throughout last summer, I encountered Dudley on a daily basis. He would frequently pop his head into my office to inquire about my progress or send me articles about legal news. Moreover, Dudley took time out of his schedule to explain legal concepts and teach me basic lawyering skills.

For me, having an experienced attorney to guide me through the process of law school and legal networking has proved to be an invaluable tool. Not only have I learned by his positive example, but Dudley has also provided me with resources to further my legal education on my own. He taught me that I had a responsibility to the profession and my clients to remain informed about recent, relevant changes in the law.

Now, at the end of law school, and the beginning of legal career, I can’t help but realize the positive impact Dudley’s legal mentoring has made on my life. Hopefully one day I too will be a mentor and will affect a student’s legal experience, just as Dudley has for me.

Dudley McCarter:

Like most law students ready to start their third year, Liz was eager to learn about every aspect of the law and to also start focusing on the practice areas that appealed to her. We tried to give her a wide variety of things to work on and, at the same time, give her greater responsibility as the summer progressed. As expected, she was preparing pleadings and drafting documents by the end of the summer. When she left, we told her that we planned to offer her a full time job if business continued to grow, as we hoped it would.

Early that fall, I received a phone call from U. S. District Court Judge Richard Webber, a good friend of mine. He told me that Liz was interning for him and that she was one of the best interns he had ever had. He told me what we already knew – that Liz was someone we should hire. Although the economic downturn gave us some concern – and still does – we knew that we would always regret it if we didn’t “lock” Liz up with us and she went to another firm. We offered her a job upon graduation and were thrilled that she accepted. I am looking forward to working with Liz for years to come and to continue to watch her career grow and prosper.

Liz Grana:

Having a mentor has allowed me to discuss my plans in law school and get opinions from an experienced attorney who has already navigated through this process.  Dudley has offered me advice about classes to take as well as informed me about current legal decisions that could impact my practice.  I frequently receive from him copies of legal magazines to keep me updated on topics or specific areas of law tested on the bar exam.  I have felt more prepared in classes and comfortable in legal conversations because of information and advice I have received from him.

I would encourage law students to become involved in organizations at their law schools that have relationships with professional or legal organization in their surrounding communities, including local bar associations, young lawyers associations, civic groups, etc.  This type of involvement will expose students (or young lawyers) to professionals and lawyers who can offer valuable advice.  Additionally, if you meet a person who has offered to stay in touch during law school, don't be afraid to ask for advice or help throughout school and when you start your legal career. It’s been an incredible help to me.

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About the Author

Liz Grana is a third year law student at Saint Louis University School of Law. She will be starting as an associate at Behr McCarter and Potter in the fall of 2009.

Dudley McCarter is the founding partner at the firm, a past president of the Missouri Bar Association, past president of the St. Louis County Bar Association, and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation. http://behrmccarterpotter.com/

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