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For many years the University of Michigan Law School has surveyed its graduates after they have been out of law school five, fifteen, twenty-five, thirty-five and forty-five years. This paper about finding mentors focuses on Michigan Law School alumni surveyed five years after graduation during the sixteen year period between 1985 and 2000 and particularly on those who have ever worked in a private law firm, a setting in which it is commonly believed that having a mentor is critical for a young lawyer’s success.

Our central findings are these: Among alumni who had worked in a law firm within their first five years after graduation, 55 percent reported having had an “especially helpful mentor” in a law-firm setting. Women were as likely as men to report having had such a mentor (though more likely than men to have left private-firm practice by their fifth year). African-Americans reported having had an especially helpful law-firm mentor somewhat less frequently than whites. Within the data available to us the factors that seem much more closely associated with having had a mentor were neither sex nor race, but rather indications of positive attitude and zeal. Based on their responses to other questions on the survey, the graduates in private firms who most frequently found mentors seem to be those who came to their first law firm job with the greatest drive to succeed in that setting.