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Among the participants in PALS, a New York-based group that mentors minority law students, are, from left, mentor Shea Owens '94; PALS chairwoman Amanda Samuel '92; PALS founder and mentor Patricia Irvin '76; mentee Elan Nieves '06; and mentor Heather Butts '94.

June 11, 2008:

Princeton attorneys: Mentoring minority law students

As the new hiring partner at a New York law firm in 1984, Dave Siegfried '64 turned to his only black associate, fellow Princeton alum Patricia Irvin '76, for help increasing diversity. To get ideas, Irvin talked with a group of minority NYU law students to find out what they needed in the recruiting process. Irvin realized that many of them didn't have parents, close relatives, or friends who had gone to college, let alone law school. What they wanted were mentors.

Irvin enlisted a dozen lawyer friends to guide law students through school and help prepare them to land jobs. "Everybody I called said yes," she recalls of the birth of Practicing Attorneys for Law Students (PALS), a no-fee, multiethnic nonprofit organization offering assistance to all law schools in the New York tristate area.

Help was welcome from wherever it came, and there was extensive outreach to Princeton alumni. "Whenever an alum says, ‘I'm doing something good, please help me,' it's a chance to give back the benefit of a Princeton education," says George Hritz '69, an international litigation and arbitration lawyer. Hritz and the other 180 PALS mentors conduct mock interviews, critique résumés, and provide one-on-one counseling with their mentees. They cover everything from the right classes to take to the unwritten rules of the legal realm, like appropriate work attire.

Because first-year law school performance weighs heavily on one's ultimate job prospects, second chances are scarce, says Amanda Samuels '92, a lawyer at Colgate-Palmolive and current PALS president. "It's not like college, where you can build steam. That first semester of law school counts more than anything," she says. PALS makes a concerted effort to pair first-year law students with mentors who will stay with them through law school and into the early years of their career.

One such student is Elan Nieves '06, a second-year law student at Fordham. "She was always there for me," Nieves says of her PALS mentor, with whom she will continue her relationship this year. "She let me ask her every type of question. And nothing was ever silly." Nieves has another mentor, Samuels, who hired Nieves to work at Colgate-Palmolive last summer.

"I hope in 20 years there won't be a need for PALS," says Irvin. "In the meantime, this work is really important." END

By Iris Blasi '03

Iris Blasi '03 is a writer and editor in New York City.