By Jeanne Ortiz • October 25, 2015•Ms. JD, Law School, Pre-Law, Other Law School Issues, Issues, Mentoring and Networking
By this time last year, our Ms. JD chapter was up and running. Our pilot project, the Student Mentorship Program, proved to be the most engaging one. Ms. JD is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the support of women in law school and the legal profession, and the National Women Law Students’ Organization (NWLSO) is Ms. JD's student arm, which aims to support women during their time in law school by providing them with both professional and academic resources. At the University of Puerto Rico School of Law, NWLSO was established to bring women together and create a space to share ideas that would enable us to thrive as law students.
Part of my inspiration to start a NWLSO chapter consisted of sharing the valuable information Ms. JD’s network had to offer students and lawyers across the country. For example, I was exposed to an incredible amount of practical advice when I attended Ms. JD’s Passion Forward in Austin, Texas as a 1L. In the year that has passed, I have come to treasure the eagerness students have to learn more about what we can do to succeed as women lawyers. I have also been fortunate to witness the attitude toward achieving professional excellence. However, what I hold near and dear to my heart is the result of uplifting one another, joining collaboration programs, and working together to achieve those career goals. There is nothing more empowering, as I have been able to experience it here, than observing women believe in women.
Here are a few of our thoughts on looking back to where we started:
1. NWLSO is a great conversation starter. The 1Ls who approach our table at welcome events want to know our connection with Ms. JD, what they can do to belong, and our thoughts on feminism as law students. When male students learn about NWLSO, they almost always have a reaction to it, too!
2. The Student Mentorship Program is an amazing way to get students involved. We try our very best to match upper-level students with students from the incoming class according to their interests in law, hobbies, and academic background. The Student Mentorship Program has turned out to be an excellent way to advocate for solidarity and female empowerment. Our Dean addressed students at our Kickoff Event this year by saying that collaboration programs like the Student Mentorship Program serve to create bonds that help us work together to tear down gender barriers in the profession. In the past year, I have witnessed these pairings blossom into inspiring relationships. One of our mentors, María, said "It's a friendship I wouldn't have had otherwise."
The good thing about our mentorship program is that it lasts for the full academic year. Students who take advantage of that relationship may even extend that match to one beyond law school graduation and the bar exam. The idea is that mentees are expected to have a professional contact in the field once their mentors become practicing attorneys. The picture below shows one of the best matches made through the program last year. Katherine (left), who was the 1L mentee, now takes the role of a 2L mentor.
3. We get to know more about our future colleagues through NWLSO’s activities. These events have given us the opportunity to interact with other members outside a classroom. In a more intimate space, we get to know more about their career aspirations, ideas, and even opinions on current events. In the middle of a conversation, you might even find that another member knows more about a certain law firm because she worked there and is willing to put in a good word for you when their summer program applications open.
4. We meet and learn about incredible women in the profession. Apart from receiving career advice from attorneys in different areas of the law, we have a chance to present ourselves and talk to them in a less intimidating setting. One of our favorite tips came from Judge Robles-Torres, who told us that hard work and a great support system are key to a successful career.
5. An opportunity to write. One of our chapter goals was to encourage more women in law school to write in English about topics that interest them. Because our classes and exams are in Spanish, we thought that writing for a blog would add to our writing skills. It's an option to those who want that opportunity but are not necessarily interested in a law review for different reasons. We want members to get their names out there and maybe even mention their contribution to our blog in a job interview. It really helps build that résumé!
6. We travel together to Ms. JD's Conference and meet other amazing women. Our chapter planned a trip to Ms. JD's past annual conference in San Francisco, California. One of our members, Viviana, said "I really liked being before a panel of highly qualified lawyers from a variety of areas within the law, who have excelled in the integration of gender equality for women in the legal workplace."
7. Connect with other women law student associations. As an organized group, it's easier to reach out to other law student organizations. This is a great opportunity to know what they're doing to advance women in the law, network with other professors, and even plan an activity together.
8. It's super easy to start a NWLSO chapter. Ms. JD provides you with a step-by-step guide on how to get together a couple of students at your school and brainstorm about what you want your agenda to be. Every chapter is different and Ms. JD is there to help turn ideas into action. There is a how-to for everything, from a Mentorship Program In a Box to a Chapter Handbook (what NWLSO-UPR used!) to direct contact with Ms. JD's Board Members, Liz Hague and Diana Stern. You can also choose a mentor for your chapter, but they give great feedback and ideas as NWLSO liaisons.
The spirit that emerges from joining NWLSO is truly unparalleled. You meet remarkable women with a variety of career ambitions. The resources that Ms. JD provides students who get involved are not only vast, but also pragmatic. NWLSO and its network adds a little more to the confidence that law students unavoidably develop as future legal professionals. NWLSO means teamwork, inspiration, and possibilities and that's why we love it.