Alumni mentorship | Alumni Stories | Fall & Winter 2021 | NEXUS Magazine | The Faculty of Law | UNB

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New alumni mentorship program offers support to students

In the fall of 2020, UNB Law successfully launched an alumni mentorship program for first-year law students. The purpose of this program was twofold: to connect students with someone who "survived" law school and went on to a fulfilling career, and to help 1Ls develop a connection to UNB Law during a year of remote learning. The response from alumni was overwhelming. Based on the positive feedback received from both students and participating alumni, the Faculty decided to continue the program for the 2021-22 academic year, with 90 mentors from across the country participating.

In her first year at UNB Law, Brigid Martin was paired with Karen Caverhill (LLB '87), who works in the Corporate, Commercial and Property Law Group in the Office of the Attorney General of New Brunswick. The pair enjoyed the experience so much that they have continued their relationship into Brigid’s second year. Caverhill has since taken on a second mentee, first-year student Adora Bustard. The three women meet regularly in person to discuss all things law.

"I am very fortunate to have been paired with a mentor who actively seeks to connect," said Brigid. "Karen has had a very successful career and has been able to share with me some of the things she has learned along the way. We have discussed law school in general and how to succeed throughout my studies and summer work. We have talked about the legal field: job searches, the job market, the realities of working in law, and networking tips and opportunities."

They have also discussed the importance of making connections with peers throughout one’s time at UNB Law and being an active member of the faculty—joining societies, participating in moots, attending events. For Brigid, some lasting advice she has received from her mentor is to get involved and meet people.

"The legal field is relatively small, especially in Atlantic Canada, and the connections you make with people are so important. If nothing else but for moral support! The value of alumni knowledge and experience cannot be understated. As someone with zero connections to people in law before beginning law school, it has been comforting to have someone I know I can reach out to with questions about the field who has lived experience."

Caverhill sees a great deal of value in helping her mentees to expand their network— something that has become even more important during the pandemic.

"COVID has severely limited people’s circles," said Caverhill. "It’s important for these students to have someone they can count on, who can help guide them to the end. I introduce them to other lawyers and legal professionals to help grow their network—everybody really wants to help young people. My hope is they can meet someone in a particular area and perhaps think more about a field they may not have  considered before."

Caverhill has connected her mentees with other UNB Law alumni like Janet Hoyt (LLB '84), who leads McCarty Tetrault’s Career Advancement Office, Tom Mann (LLB '81), a negotiations consultant, and Anne Caverhill (LLB '81), who worked in child protection.

"I get as much out of meeting these students as they do," said Caverhill. "I really enjoy it. You can sit on a board and be passive or be involved and interactive, and make a difference in these students' lives."

One of the most tangible benefits for Caverhill has been watching her mentees connect and form their own bond—a sort of mentorship inside a mentorship.

"That’s one of the best things, getting to see an upper-year student connect with a 1L and offer guidance. Adora and Brigid have also gotten together on their own to talk about the law school experience, moots, exams, and many other things."

Third-year student Matthew Smith was paired with David Gauthier (LLB '84) of Gauthier and Associates in Saint John, NB, at the beginning of his second semester of 2L. The pair meet virtually—through Zoom—once a month for a one-to-two-hour check-in. Matthew has found the experience to be tremendously useful.

"When we first met, David told me that, as far as he was concerned, he would treat our conversations as though we had solicitor-client privilege. He wanted me to feel comfortable to express concerns and ask questions without worrying that what I had said would be repeated within the legal community. I cannot stress enough how valuable it is to be able to chat with a lawyer from whom I am neither seeking a job nor evaluation."

For Matthew, having a mentor during the notoriously difficult second year of law school—not to mention during a global pandemic—has been of great benefit, especially when it comes to keeping perspective. Between looking for summer employment that will hopefully turn into an articling position and sifting through the myriad of compulsory courses, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. 

"David helps me keep things in perspective. Having a lawyer validate what you’re experiencing—because they were here too—and confirm for you that, while not getting an OCI interview does indeed suck, it is not the end of your legal career, is very helpful."

Matthew and David have discussed many topics relevant to any law student: what the day-to-day looks like for a lawyer; billable hours versus salary; sole practitioner, mid-sized, or large firm; job security; and how often lawyers change firms. David has connected Matthew with other lawyers in various fields to explore further career options.

Gauthier sees a great deal of value in connecting mentors not only with 1Ls but with upper-year students as well.

"I think the need is likely different for second and third-year students. First years may be more caught up with the challenges of law school and how to get through it. As students enter 2L and 3L, they start thinking about articles, where they want to take their career, and what type of law they want to practice. I think the mentorship program helps with this conversation."

For Gauthier, an important point of discussion has been to explore career options outside of the traditional large firm experience; to avoid confining oneself to a single career path.

"A law degree opens up many doors. One of the things that Matthew and I have discussed quite a bit is the fact that a lot of law students graduate focusing on the larger firms in the province and don't look necessarily too far beyond that. They don't consider that there are other very viable entities as employers like corporations, government, and private organizations that might be a very good match for them as individuals."

"When you’re interacting with people that you are hoping to secure a job from, or on whom your GPA depends, there is naturally a power imbalance," said Matthew, "and a level of deference that can make it difficult to be candid. The mentorship program provided me with a bubble where I could let my guard down. I highly recommend the mentorship program to law students, and I am very grateful that David gives up his time to listen to this neurotic one in particular."

If you would like to get involved as a mentor and be matched with a first-year UNB Law student in 2022-23, please contact law.careers@unb.ca.

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