Professionals and students engage in Mentor Program

10-30-2009

Iris Yokoi

As a second-career law student, Glenn Kubota definitely struggled with shifting gears.

Kubota went to law school in search of a more communicative, people-oriented profession after a decade in electrical engineering. But he didn’t have a formal mentor while attending Loyola Law School Los Angeles ("I had to talk to my uncle, who is a judge") and was challenged by the open-ended style of communicating and learning.

"In science, you can put a box around the answer, while in law, there is no right or wrong," explains Kubota. "The openness of the law school classes was something to get used to."

He ultimately was energized by law school, where he found constitutional law especially fascinating, and learning about human rights issues opened his mind. Now, as a patent law attorney at Morrison & Foerster, Kubota wants to help ease the "pain" of law school for other students by volunteering as a mentor at the new UC Irvine School of Law.

Kubota wasn’t the only one drawn to help the 60 inaugural students of UC Irvine School of Law. So many legal professionals from all over Southern California volunteered to be mentors that administrators quickly filled their goal of assigning two mentors (one a younger "junior" mentor, one a more established "senior" mentor) per student, and already have a waiting list of mentors for the next class that begins in Fall 2010.

In keeping with UCI Law’s mission to nurture well-rounded lawyers, the mentoring program seeks to provide students with real-world advice and guidance about the overall profession, not just specific career tracks. Both the junior and senior mentor are expected to allow the student to observe them on the job; each student is to spend a minimum of 25 hours during the academic year on the job with one or both of their mentors. The students will be required to prepare written reports of their experiences for the Legal Profession class, which teaches students about legal practice in real-life settings.

With no 2Ls and 3Ls to provide peer counsel to the Inaugural Class, the "junior" mentor, a more recent member of the California Bar, is expected to help the student navigate the law school experience.

Shiry Tannenbaum, a 2008 graduate of Santa Clara University School of Law, is happy to pass on the sound, straightforward advice she got from her mentor – who also happens to be her brother. "Worry about yourself and your own progress," her brother told Tannenbaum when she fretted about whether she’d chosen the right school. And: "If you’re confused, everyone is confused … Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your professors."

"I couldn’t have survived without him," Tannenbaum says unequivocally. He listened and counseled her on every question, and "he never sounded impatient."

So it’s no surprise that the experience inspired Tannenbaum to pay it forward and offer support to other law students. Now a business litigation attorney at Connor, Fletcher & Williams in Irvine, Tannenbaum enthusiastically signed up to be a mentor for UCI Law – and got her boss and her brother to sign up, too.

Mentoring his sister was a seamless, natural thing to do, says Oz Tannenbaum, a 2005 Southwestern Law School graduate, now a litigation attorney at Murtaugh Meyer Nelson & Treglia, also in Irvine. He and his sister are the first lawyers in their family, and her questions were familiar. "‘What’s the right way?’ is the biggest concern," he notes.

Oz Tannenbaum also has mentored other students besides his sister. But being a UCI Law mentor promises to go beyond the usual questions, he says, because of the school’s focus on teaching students practical lessons about the profession.

Typically, law schools "teach you how to think. You have to figure out how to do it," he says, recalling how he had to quickly learn what a "demurrer" was at his first job. "Once you graduate, it kind of feels like starting over, and there’s a lot of pressure."

His UCI Law mentee, Christina Zabat-Fran, is already grateful for the straightforward advice from her mentor. The two have been communicating primarily by email – "I’ll send him questions when I’m thinking about particular situations," says Zabat-Fran. And many of her questions seek specifics. "Everyone wants to give you the big picture when they offer advice. But I want to know: ‘What worked for you, and what didn’t?’" she says.

"How did you figure out how to identify your motivations and passions and what kind of law you want to pursue?" was one recent question she posed to her mentor. "Oz gave me great advice and walked me through what he experienced and even suggested a book to me that was helpful," Zabat-Fran says. "He’s great because he says, ‘This worked for me, specifically.’

"Mentors offer concrete options that you can sort through to find solutions."

Kubota’s mentee, Josh Schraer, agrees. The student has appreciated Kubota's candor about his personal law school experience, especially since Schraer also initially didn't think of pursuing law as a career. Schraer majored in psychology at UCLA and admitted to being "on the fence," even after looking into law schools.

But like Kubota, Schraer says he was ultimately drawn by how the law "has such a direct impact on people’s lives," and how cases seldom affect just one person – the consequences are far reaching.

Since first meeting in August, Kubota and Schraer have emailed back and forth, and Schraer visited Kubota’s Los Angeles office once. "It was my first time visiting a big law firm Downtown and it made me realize how fortunate I am to have him as a mentor," Schraer says.

The best advice from Kubota so far? “Pick a field of law that I am passionate about, and that I enjoy,” Schraer says.