Professional Mentorship Program
For 19 years , UW law students
have benefited from the expertise
and experience of the hundreds of
judges and attorneys who serve as
professional mentors .
"We originally started out with mentors for students
of color," said former Assistant Dean Sandra Madrid.
"Many were first-generation law students or had no
lawyers in their families or exposure to anyone in
the legal field."
Madrid felt having mentors would assist the students
in their legal journey, and she was right. For
many students, mentors are their first contacts with
"people who have been through it." They provide
guidance as students adjust to the often overwhelming
demands of their first year in law school. As
practicing lawyers, whether in private, government,
or public service positions, mentors offer insight
into the wide range of careers open to graduates.
They make themselves available and offer advice on
courses to take, externships to explore, and legal
issues found in the curriculum.
Associate Dean Mary Hotchkiss and Assistant Dean
Naomi Sanchez share the responsibility of assigning
students to mentors. They look for common
interests or similar backgrounds when making their
matches. Washington Court of Appeals Judge Ronald
Cox '73, for example, served in the Army, and
his most recent mentee, James Proctor, was in the
Navy. Lianne Caster '03, who works at Stoel Rives
in Seattle and received her master's degree from
Brandeis University, was paired with Alia Kaneko, a
Brandeis graduate. Those types of connections help
break the ice during the initial meeting and establish
a platform from which to build good mentor-mentee
"The connection between law school and law
practice was remote when I was a student," said
Judge Cox. Cox has helped bridge that gap for current
students by inviting Proctor and his entire class
to watch oral arguments in the Court of Appeals.
Afterwards, the students joined Cox in his chambers
to discuss what they had learned and observed.
Cox has the added insight of someone who transitioned
from the military to civilian life, a definite
plus for Proctor, who served in the Navy for 21 years.
"In the Navy, regulations are set, but the law
can be ambiguous," Proctor said. "Judge Cox
understands that. He is motivational and generous
with his time and willingness to help. He kept me
from getting too anxious as I adjusted to law and
Cox also teaches appellate advocacy at the law
school, mentors high school students, and is actively
involved in the King County Bar Association's Future
of the Law Institute. He first became a mentor 16
years ago because "I do what Sandra [Madrid] tells
me to do" and remains in contact with many of his
mentees long after they leave law school.
"Law school requires a new way of thinking,"
Cox said. "I'm here to tell them
things will get easier. I encourage
them to send me an email if
they have a question or problem,
and they take me up on it."
Cox, who has been with the
program almost since the beginning,
did not benefit from having
a mentor, but Lianne Caster
remembers her mentor quite
"My match was with Judge
Harriet Cody, and she was fantastic,"
Caster said. "I had no
lawyers in my family, no established
path through law school.
She was a terrific resource."
That personal experience led
Caster to become a mentor
when she graduated in 2003.
She noted the impact of the
action initiative, I-200, and how
it negatively affected minority
enrollment. Today, as president
of the Korean American Bar Association
of Washington and law
school mentor, Caster works with
minority students who often lack role models in the
"Today, the first-year students are particularly
concerned about the economy," she noted. "I encourage
them to network, and I help them figure
out what kinds of classes they should take to be the
kind of lawyer they want to be."
Kaneko met Caster for the first time at the annual
mentor-mentee reception held in downtown
Seattle in September 2008. Shortly thereafter, Caster
invited her to the Vietnamese Bar Association of
Washington's annual banquet and introduced her to
colleagues in the legal community. During a lunch
meeting, Caster offered her perspective on working
for a law firm and how Kaneko could best use her
legal training to advocate for people who are homeless
"She gave me excellent advice on what courses
would be most helpful and what I should be looking
for in extracurricular activities," Kaneko said. "She
helped me look at my summer and the benefits of
working in different places to hone my skills. She
took the edge off the craziness of law school."
As the lawyer recruiting and diversity manager
at Stoel Rives, Caster can offer specific guidance on
identifying career opportunities for her mentees.
She encourages them to be proactive in looking
at employers and understanding their policies and
workplace culture. She answers questions about
billable hours, private practice, and balancing work
and family. An appointee to the Washington State
Bar Association Committee for Diversity, she also
has insight into misunderstandings in the workplace
because of cultural differences.
"It can be alienating if you're the only person of
color at your workplace," she said. "Even in Seattle,
you can hear inappropriate comments."
Caster believes that strong mentoring programs
educate law students about the importance of
mentorship for a successful career path, which helps
advance diversity in the legal profession overall.
Today, the Professional Mentorship Program has
a vast cadre of mentors from diverse backgrounds
as well as all areas of the legal profession—federal,
state, and local judges and lawyers from the public,
private, nonprofit, and government sectors. Because
mentors have such a wide range of experiences
and areas of expertise, law school staff can match
mentors with students who come to law school
with various interests and goals. The program thus
establishes the foundation upon which professional
mentors can build relationships and provide support
to students as they adjust to the rigors of law
school and make decisions about their futures. All
first-year School of Law students benefit from the
encouragement, insight, and dedication of professional
The School of Law's commitment to the success of
all students was at the heart of the development of
the Professional Mentorship Program. It has reached
From UW Law, Fall 2009