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Indiana Tech Law School mentors bring law to life

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At least once a month, Magistrate Judge Roger Cosbey and law student Christian Allen can be found seated at a table at Don Hall’s Old Gas House Restaurant, a hot spot for the legal community in Fort Wayne. The topic of conversation does not stray too far from legal concepts and procedures, ethical issues, and trials underway at the E. Ross Adair Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse on Harrison Street.

Local attorneys and judges often stop by their table throughout the evening to enjoy a quick chat. For Allen, a student at Indiana Tech Law School, watching those professionals socialize and hearing them talk about issues they are working on has taught him how important personal interaction is to lawyers.

allencosby-15col.jpg Federal Magistrate Judge Roger Cosbey (left) has volunteered to mentor Indiana Tech Law School student Christian Allen. The two meet regularly to discuss legal concepts, class assignments and court proceedings as part of the school’s mentorship program. (Submitted photo)

The attorneys and judges, Allen said, are very down-to-earth. Moreover, they love to teach and welcome new people into the profession, he said.

Dinner at Don Hall’s has given Allen insight into being a lawyer that he, and most other law students, would not get in a classroom.

Those are the types of learning experiences Indiana Tech Law School is hoping to foster with its mentor program. At the beginning of their first semester, students are matched with professionals from the legal community who will advise, encourage and guide them through all three years of study.

Dean Peter Alexander launched the idea for the long-term mentoring program when he arrived from Southern Illinois University School of Law. He spent considerable time meeting one-on-one with judges and attorneys, talking about the law school and asking them to be mentors. The effort paid off. For the inaugural year of the law school, more than 80 legal professionals have volunteered to be mentors.

Cosbey, magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, sees some of himself in Allen and wants to provide his mentee with opportunities he did not have as a law student.

Coming from a family that had no connections to the law, Cosbey did not meet a practicing lawyer until he was able to get a summer position working for an attorney after his second year of law school. More than seeing the motions and pleadings for the first time, Cosbey, like Allen, was most impressed by the way the attorney carried himself.

“I think he was a good role model in terms of professionalism,” the magistrate judge said of his mentor. “I think that was probably the most important thing I observed.”

Matchmaking

The process of pairing students with their mentors began with questionnaires.

Members of the bench and bar who were interested in being a mentor filled out a form denoting their areas of practice, undergraduate and law school alma maters, and volunteer activities in the community. Likewise, students indicated their interests, such as in criminal law, family law or another area.

Then Ruth de Wit, Alexander’s executive assistant, put all that data into a spreadsheet. She and Alexander then compared interests and backgrounds of students and potential mentors before matching each student with a local professional.

She said the pairing was a “little bit like matchmaking.”

How the relationship develops between the mentor and the student is largely left to the two individuals. The law school asks that the attorneys and judges who volunteer for the program meet at least one time each semester with their students and try to attend a function at the law school.

Rachel Johnston gets excited every time her mentor, attorney Cathy Niemeyer, arrives at the law school to take her to dinner each month. “Best” and “awesome” are words Johnston tosses around to describe Niemeyer.

The dinner topics range from coursework and legal concepts to how to schedule time for workouts and what classes to take next year.

“She actually understands because she’s been there, done that,” Johnston said of Niemeyer. “She’s just there for me as a support. I really appreciate being given the perspective and input from someone who has been to law school and is now a practicing attorney.”

Connecting

The lunchtime conversations between Allen Circuit Judge Tom Felts and his student, Kyle Noone, probably leave little time to actually eat. Felts is a Republican, Noone is a Democrat; Felts is a trial judge, Noone is the Elwood City Court judge; Felts is a new grandfather; Noone is a new father.

“We have not lacked at all for things to talk about,” Felts said.

An interesting part of the mentorship for Felts has been its impact on him. Discussing judicial philosophy and temperament with his student, and seeing how enthusiastic Noone is about the law, Felts said it has kind of reinvigorated him.

Once a week, Tonya Bankhead sits down with her mentor, Victoria Duke, associate professor of law at Indiana Tech Law School. The two have talked about class assignments, time management, research topics, and ethics in sessions which typically exceed an hour.

“Whatever I need help with, whatever I have going on right now, we talk about,” Bankhead said.

How comfortable and helpful the mentorship has become is not what Bankhead expected. In fact, she admits that she initially hid from Duke, thinking she didn’t have time and didn’t need the assistance.

Bankhead arrived on campus confident she could handle the coursework. She holds a master’s degree in criminal justice so she is familiar with procedures, and she has the writing skills to compose essays.

Quickly, Bankhead realized, law school is “totally different.” Duke has enabled her to navigate those differences and remain comfortable even when she takes a test or turns in legal briefs longer than her classmates’ briefs.

Through watching his mentor conduct trials at the federal courthouse, Allen has broadened his interests beyond criminal law and has begun hoeing a path to his future. He is considering pursuing a law clerk post after graduation and, for this summer, has already secured a position working for a judge in the Illinois 5th District Appellate Court.

Without having a mentor, he said, “I would still think this is the best law school in the world, but the mentor program just really put it over the top and brought everything together.”•
 

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  • Sigh
    Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.
  • Mentors don't solve the myriad problems of Indy Tech Law School
    As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.
  • Excited
    have you been accepted to the law school as well for this year
  • Excited
    As someone who was accepted into the new class I am extremely happy and can't wait to start law school at Indiana Tech. I am looking forward to a new type of education as well as the 1195 days of law school I will have to go through
    • law school
      I think it is wonderful that the community is gathering together to be mentors for those who are choosing law as a career. I am recently a student at Indiana Tech, and work as a paralegal in family law. I look forward to transferring over to the law school!!!!!

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      1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

      2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

      3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

      4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

      5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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