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Mentors reaching out to graduates of Andover law school

Massachu-setts School of Law career services director Victoria Dickinson (right) with student Dan Hutchinson, who is part of a new mentor program that matches law students and recent grads with alumni who are practicing attorneys.

Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe

Massachusetts School of Law career services director Victoria Dickinson (right) with student Dan Hutchinson, who is part of a new mentor program that matches law students and recent grads with alumni who are practicing attorneys.

ANDOVER — Jaime Pruzansky graduated from the Massachusetts School of Law last May, and in July she passed the bar on her first try. She knew finding her first job as a lawyer would not be an easy next step in a tough market.

So Pruzansky signed up for the law school’s mentoring program, and was paired with alumnus Irwin Pollack of Patriot Law Group in Norwood. She spends a few days a week attending meetings or doing office work, and sometimes shadowing Pollack in court.

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“The support I receive from my mentor is more on a personal basis where I can call or e-mail him anytime if I have questions through the beginning stages of taking on a client,” said Pruzansky, who lives in Brighton.

Aside from the practical guidance she receives, Pruzansky said the mentoring program allows her to network and she hopes it could soon lead to landing a permanentpaying job.

The Andover law school followed the path of larger, more expensive New England law schools in launching the alumni mentor program last fall.

“We hope that the mentor program adds to the web of resources we offer to help students get through law school and to help recent grads bridge the gap between the classroom and the courtroom,” said Victoria Dickinson, career services director for the school.

Located off Interstate 93 just south of the Merrimack River, the 500-student law school, founded 25 years ago, offers inexpensive tuition compared with other law schools in the region, allowing working-class students the opportunity to obtain a law degree.

‘We hope that the mentor program . . . helps recent grads bridge the gap between the classroom and the courtroom.’

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Full-time tuition is more than $44,000 a year at three local law schools — Boston College, Boston University, and Suffolk University — but $19,500 at Massachusetts School of Law, according to its website.

The mentoring program matches students and recent graduates with alumni who are established in practicing law and allows them to job shadow and foster personal relationships, said Dickinson. It is an extension of another program that matches first-year students with upperclassmen.

“The mentor program is more to have a guide to call; someone to talk to who is not a professor,” said Dickinson.

Such programs have been established at many Massachusetts law schools, said Martin W. Healy, chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association. One practical benefit is they help keep the number of malpractice suits down, he said.

“What seems routine can quickly become overwhelming,” said Healy of the challenges facing over 2,000 new attorneys admitted annually to practice law in Massachusetts. “Mentoring communities provide a lifeline for a lot of new attorneys who are not invested in ethical and legal issues as much as a seasoned attorney.”

MSLAW recruited more than 60 alumni mentors along with 10 upper-level law students who provide guidance to underclassmen, said Dickinson. Nearly the entire class of 100 first-year law students is participating in the program. While fewer than 20 recent graduates are taking advantage of the opportunity, Dickinson expects that number to increase once more graduates learn of the program.

Alumni mentor Jocelyn Thomsen of Legal Writes, a nontraditional law practice based in Newburyport, also serves as a MSLAW adjunct professor in the legal writing program. She brings a keen perspective on issues law students face.

“I am acutely aware of how hungry they are for help with what is not being taught in law school,” said Thomsen. “It can be a very bumpy road between graduation and passing the bar to actually practicing law successfully.”

Third-year MSLAW student Dan Hutchinson of Derry, N.H., who mentors a group of eight to 10 of his peers, signed on to guide students in the importance of time management, exam preparation, and good study habits. Hutchinson gives his time in line with the spirit of the school, he said, which is one of unity and support. He also is participating in an internship program where he works under the guidance of an attorney.

“This school is by far the best experience I’ve ever had,” said Hutchinson. “There is not one person who will not give you extra time to do what you have to get done, and I want to help repay what they’ve done for me.”

According to the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners, 59 percent of the 66 MSLAW graduates passed on their first try last July. The alumni mentoring program can help that number grow, Healy said.

“The school has a number of successful grads and has proven itself in a number of areas. It’s been around for a number of years and is making its mark within the legal community, and I commend them for having this program.”

Bella Travaglini can be reached at bellatrav@gmail.com.
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