Law Clinic

Program Excellence

A recipient of the E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award, the Mentor Externship Program is one of the most distinctive and innovative components of the University of St. Thomas School of Law. St. Thomas is one of just two law schools in the country that offer more externships than full-time enrollment.

The objectives of the Mentor Externship Program are continually evaluated, and assessment tools are used to guide the supervision and administration of the externship with a focus on the highest level of quality control and supervision. The primary methods of assessment include:

  • Self-directed learning through individual goal plans (Personal and Professional Development Plans)
  • Contact with each student/mentor pair mid-year
  • Anecdotal reports from students and mentors
  • Required electronic record keeping (student mentor logs) with administrative supervision and feedback
  • Curriculum evaluation and discussion with mentor externship faculty
  • Student perspective and evaluation through the Student Government Mentor Externship Advisory Committee
  • Year-end evaluations and feedback from students, mentors and faculty

At the end of each year, all student online mentor logs are compiled for evaluation, assessment and review. Particular emphasis is given to:

  • Whether the externship objectives are being met, including an evaluation of professionalism issues
  • Whether students are actively engaged in their mentor relationships.

Successful participation in the Mentor Externship Program is required during each year of law school. Students are required to maintain their mentor relationship and fulfill the Mentor Externship requirements in a timely and professional manner.

First-year students focus on developing good relationships with their mentors and logging 18 hours of fieldwork. Students receive guidance on professionalism, communication, time management, and making the most of mentor relationships through programs held throughout the year. The first year has no seminar component, and no academic credit is earned.

Second- and third-year students complete 30 hours of fieldwork per year while maintaining good relationships with their mentor. In addition, students take a required one credit seminar each year. The seminars are taught by full- and part-time faculty. These faculty mentors teach up to 16 students in small group classes and assist students in meeting their self-defined objectives throughout the year. Students attend four large group programs and two small group classes, participate in class discussion, and complete writing and reading assignments. Students meet individually with their faculty mentors each semester to receive evaluation and guidance on their progress in their professional journey.

As members of a self-governing profession, lawyers and judges are called to assist in the training and preparation of our next generation of lawyers. Our mentors respond to that calling.

More than 500 lawyers and judges currently volunteer as mentors in the program. Mentors reflect the diversity of the profession in all its forms including age, gender, ethnicity, practice area, geographic location and religion. Mentors also represent all sectors of the profession: private practice (solo to large firm), local, state and federal government, non-profit and public interest organizations, in-house, public defenders, and the judiciary, including state and federal district courts, the appellate courts, specialty courts and administrative law judges.

Each mentor is asked to contribute 15-18 hours a year to the program. Many mentors voluntarily contribute more than 18 hours a year.

This one-of-a-kind community of students, mentors, and faculty, informed by faith and reason, presents a credible and realistic view of our profession and fosters a commitment to the ideals of the profession. Students develop a profound understanding of "real world" issues and a keen awareness that the success and health of the profession rests in the hands of the next generation of lawyers. This program prepares students for service and leadership.

Just as internal leadership support is critical to the success of the program, so is external servant leadership. Servant leadership is a philosophy that allows every individual to realize his or her full professional potential and personal growth in an ethical and caring environment. A critical piece of the University of St. Thomas School of Law program is training law students to be servant leaders who exemplify the highest ideals of our profession. Mentors, serving as role models, should themselves be servant leaders who exemplify these qualities.

The opportunity to fully appreciate and understand professionalism issues is further enhanced through the concept of reflective lawyering. The objectives of the program draw on the habit and skill of reflective lawyering. Working in concert with the hands-on application and required framework of the program, reflective lawyering is a key aspect of the Mentor Externship. The classroom discussions further the objective of reflective lawyering, a concept centered around the idea that students benefit from hearing about other mentors’ approaches to the same issues, and about other students’ perceptions of what they have experienced.

The understanding of professionalism on which the Mentor Externship Program is built flows out of the tradition of the learned professions in general and the Preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct in particular. In the tradition of the learned professions, society and the members of a profession form an unwritten social compact whereby the members of the profession agree to restrain self-interest, to promote the ideals of the profession (particularly public service) and to maintain high standards of minimum performance, while society in return allows the profession substantial autonomy to regulate itself through peer review.

To maintain the social compact and its autonomy, a profession must create peer cultures both of effective maintenance of minimum standards and of high aspiration in terms of professional ideals. Healthy peer cultures depend on the life-long formation of the moral compass of each professional and ethical leadership from within the peer collegia that fosters both effective peer review and high aspiration.

Professionalism and ethics have always been central themes for the program. However, the School of Law did not anticipate the extent to which the program would: (1) identify professionalism issues in terms of communication, record-keeping and meeting deadlines (2) provide an opportunity to educate students about those issues, and (3) better prepare them for life as a professional. Working with a lawyer or judge in the community requires students to focus on a number of professionalism skill sets that are not necessary for or tested in the classroom. Students are called to navigate these issues, in a very objective sense, just as lawyers and judges do on a daily basis. Functioning at the aspirational level, the program allows students to navigate difficult issues alongside a servant leader who exemplifies the highest standards and aspirations.

What has emerged since the programs inceptions is a portrait of professionalism challenges for students that mirror professionalism challenges for lawyers. The parallels are striking, and call for innovative and effective effort not only to identify personal weaknesses and future ethical challenges but also to move students to the highest level of ethical and professional behavior for the betterment of our profession and the communities we serve.

What Our Students Say

"Through Toni’s mentorship, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss rewriting city ordinances with key City Council members, draft memos for the Minneapolis Commission on Civil Rights, and investigate complaints of discrimination. It is through Toni's mentorship that I’ve come to realize the roles preparation and patience play in social justice. Of course passion is important, but only proper preparation will bring about long-lasting social change, and it takes patience to understand that long-lasting change takes time."
—Cynthia Assam '16 J.D., on her experience with mentor Toni Newborn, assistant director of the Complaint Investigations Division at the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights