Educating the next Idaho lawyer

Chloe Baul//January 20, 2023

Educating the next Idaho lawyer

Chloe Baul//January 20, 2023

The interior of a Smith + Malek Attorneys office. Photo courtesy of Smith + Malek

Embarking on a legal career goes far beyond the classroom, often requiring law students to gain hands-on pre- and post-graduate experience. Many of these internship and mentorship programs are highly competitive, allowing lawyers and firms to find the right fit.

Hawley Troxell and Smith + Malek Attorneys, two leading law firms in Idaho, recognize mentorship programs as a crucial component in training and integrating new lawyers into their firms.

According to Luke Malek, Smith + Malek attorney and co-founder, the firm works hard to build relationships with colleges and universities at all three of the firm’s locations in Boise, Coeur d’ Alene and Spokane.

“They have been great in working with us and allowing us to come on campus and meet students, either through teaching classes, on-campus interviews or our special events,” Malek said. “We work really closely with alumni from those institutions to get to know people and build those relationships.”

Additionally, the firm offers two kinds of comprehensive internships, where law students have the ability to earn credit or work for money as an intern.

“Our number-one way of growing is making sure that we are a place that people want to work,” Malek said. “And that they get experience that they want to launch their career.”

Jim Martin, hiring partner at Hawley Troxell, said the firm goes beyond the internship experience, and instead, brings in summer associates or students in their second and third year in law school.

“We treat them just like associate attorneys and give them assignments where they do legal research and writing — whether they attend meetings, dispositions or closings with us,” Martin said. “Our programs are designed to really give the full breadth of experience.”

The summer associate program also doubles as a “three-month interview,” where the firm decides whether the student meets the firm’s qualifications. It also allows students to decide if the firm is a place they would like to work in the future.

“We’re pretty picky about who we bring in, with the expectation that they’re likely to meet that three-month interview,” Martin said. “We’re always hiring and we’re always looking for good people.”

Hawley Troxell’s Boise office is located in the downtown Wells Fargo building. Photo by Pete Grady Photography

Along with associate programs for students, Hawley Troxell also offers a formal mentorship program for lawyers employed at the firm. The purpose of this structured program is to help new lawyers succeed by diving into all of the issues of what it’s like being a lawyer. It also serves as a retention program for getting on top of issues early, helping to retain as many lawyers as possible and keeping them happy, added Martin.

“(A mentor’s) purpose is finding that work-life balance — that we mandate — and providing guidance in terms of how the firm operates as a business,” he explained. “Also, finding an outlet for raising concerns and providing that outlet.”

Law students entering the Idaho workforce

While there is a strong market for lawyers in the state, there appears to be an acute shortage in Idaho’s small towns and rural communities, according to Johanna Kalb, dean of the University of Idaho College of Law

“As the only law school in the state, we’re trying to respond to this in multiple ways,” Kalb said.  “Our entering class of 150 is the largest we’ve ever had, because we see the need in the community. Our overall enrollment is about 400 right now.”

As a result, the college launched the Idaho Heritage Project, which provides financial support to allow students to spend a summer or a semester working in an underserved community.

“Our goal is to show our students how rich and interesting small-town practice can be and to help them make connections to return to these communities after graduation,” Kalb said. “We’re doing this project in partnership with many of the district bar associations, who are helping us find placements and understand the needs of these places.”

Looking ahead, Kalb expressed concern for the future legal workforce due to tuition costs rising faster than salaries in rural areas.

“We’re still a great bargain at $24,000 a year,” she said. “So, we’re trying to get creative in thinking about how to solve that to ensure all parts of the state have access to the legal services they need.”