Young Lawyers Ementoring Magnet Students
by Justin Elegant
In 2000, the Legal and Public Affairs Magnet Program was created at Miami Senior High for accelerated students interested in careers in law and public affairs. To strengthen this program, a group of twenty- four magnet students was individually selected to participate in an eMentoring pilot program with volunteer young lawyers from the Dade County Bar Association. By communicating with students via email, these young lawyers are utilizing the speed and ease of electronic communication to help their students achieve academic excellence, improve communication skills and explore career goals. Simultaneously, the mentors receive pro bono credit for their volunteer hours pursuant to the "Put Something Back" program, a joint pro bono project of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit and the Dade County Bar Association.
The eMentoring program was co-founded and designed by Justin Elegant, a civil trial lawyer. Mr. Elegant is an Advisory Board Member to the Miami Senior High Legal and Public Affairs Magnet. He and the Magnet's Lead Teacher, co-founder Ed Asper, together decided that eMentoring would be invaluable to the students (both academically and emotionally) while at the same time be rewarding for the lawyers.
Twenty-four volunteer young lawyers were each assigned a ninth or tenth grade student (of the same gender) to work with throughout the school year. The lawyer and student engage in weekly communication via email. One communication per week is required, yet the participants are free to increase the amount of electronic communication as desired and as their schedules permit. Most pairs communicate several times a week and a few converse daily. A topic for the coming week, with specific questions designed to promote discussion, is sent to the participants each Friday. The topics combine important current events with personal issues relating to a lawyer's daily life. The topics have included hypotheticals involving terrorism, the death penalty and the question of whether drivers should be prohibited from using cellular phones. This is done to facilitate, yet in no way limit, the weekly communication.
There are three group face-to-face meetings at the school. Meetings at the beginning, the middle and at the end of the school year are mandatory for all participants. Well known guest speakers are presented and parents are welcome to attend the two final meetings. The participants also enjoy field trips to a local law school and to the Dade County Courthouse.
Periodically, one-page evaluation forms are completed and submitted by all participants to the program coordinators. These formal evaluations, in addition to the participants' responses to questions sent randomly via email, allow the program coordinators to monitor the success of the eMentoring relationships. This information is kept confidential and used solely to improve the program. A steering committee of three lawyers is responsible for closely following the progress of the relationships. The steering committee communicates weekly with the mentors to ensure that the program is running smoothly.
The program has been very successful. Mentors have stated the following:
"This program has been very rewarding. I feel like I am helping someone get a head start in life. So many times students are not given enough information about the real world and I would like to think I am helping her. We have already started discussing such things as the importance of a good GPA and the availability of scholarships."
"I definitely think xxxxx is taking advantage of the program. She routinely asks for my opinion or viewpoint about either her studies or the topic of the week. I truly hope she is benefiting even half as much as me."
Moreover, mentees have benefited from the experience:
". . . I am more than happy with the way that the program has been going. Everything is perfect and I've been communicating with my mentor about 2 or 3 times a week, he's a great guy. So far we've discussed sports (the world series and football) and school. I think that the program doesn't need any improvements, from what I've noticed, this program seems to be the most prosperous venture that the magnet program has taken. . ."
"Being matched up with someone who is in the field of work that you want to go into is genius. It's like having a friend that can tell you anything that you want to know about law. I personally love law, so this program is ideal for me."
The participants have consistently demonstrated their commitment to their partners and excitement about the project.
There are magnet students all over the country who would love to have a personal tutor, friend and advisor whom they can contact freely via email. The Dade County Bar Association Young Lawyers Schools Committee, the Bank Atlantic Foundation and a few local law firms have sponsored the program Mr. Elegant is looking for additional corporate sponsors to help with future events and computer access for the students. The program is currently being duplicated in Florida and elsewhere. For more information, please contact Justin Elegant at Frisco1232@aol.com.
About Justin B. Elegant...
Justin B. Elegant is a civil trial lawyer with the law firm of William L. Petros P.A. in Miami, Florida. He devotes his practice to Commercial, Wrongful Death, Medical Malpractice, Nursing Home and Insurance Litigation.
He has created a telementoring program pairing young lawyers (Dade County Bar Assoc.) and legal magnet students at Miami Senior High. This is the first program of its type in the United States. This program has achieved great success and will be presented at the American Bar Assoc. Young Lawyers Div. National Conference in May, 2002 (Denver). His e-mail address is Frisco1232@aol.com.