For more than 15 years, Renne Public Law Group (RPLG) Partner Jon Holtzman has been inviting recent college graduates interested in pursuing careers in law or public policy to join his support team, providing unprecedented access to clients, conferences and career development opportunities.

“I started mentoring recent graduates to give them a deeper understanding of what lawyers do before attending law school,” said Jon. “It has been such a positive and mutually rewarding experience that I have continued hiring recent graduates as legal assistants ever since.” Over time, the program has grown to include graduates interested in public policy.

Legal assistants work closely with Jon on client matters, including writing reports and articles, assisting with presentations, litigation and bargaining. They often attend client meetings, closed session meetings of local government bodies and legal conferences. These experiences provide useful opportunities to see law and public policy in the making — opportunities that are often hard to come by in other pre-law employment opportunities.

Some of the representative projects Jon’s former legal assistants have worked on include:

  • Preparing complex cost analyses for labor negotiations between public agencies and multiple labor unions
  • Researching cutting edge pension reform and legal developments for articles and presentations at leading public law conferences
  • Legal and factual research
  • Fact-finding for investigations
  • Assisting Jon at the bargaining table for high-stakes labor negotiations

Over the years, this mentorship program has become a unique opportunity for aspiring lawyers to gain useful experience in public law and policy prior to entering law or graduate school. Thus far, Jon has mentored around 10 legal assistants, many of whom have gone on to attend top law schools, including Harvard, Stanford and UC Berkeley. Other legal assistants are working in government roles, doing nonprofit work or pursuing advanced degrees in public policy. One became a leading architectural photographer.

At the end of the legal assistant’s two-year tenure, Jon helps guide each participant through the law and grad school application process. The most recent “graduate” of the mentorship program, Katya Abelsky, is planning to apply to law schools later this year and begin working toward her law degree in Fall of 2019. She had previously received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

“I have always been interested in the ways that legal actors and policymakers can work together in the public interest. That’s what originally drew me to the program,” said Katya. “As Jon’s legal assistant, I was able to both witness and be part of this collaboration. I not only attended the bargaining sessions, the hearings, the conferences and the city council meetings, but I also helped to conduct the research and to prepare the presentations and agreements that were used in those meetings. As a first generation college student, that real world experience was invaluable.

“I especially enjoyed working with Jon and Alex Volberding on Project Labor Agreements and Community Workforce Agreements. As part of RPLG’s ‘PLA/CWA team,’ I helped to provide research and analysis related to local and targeted hiring mechanisms that are now in use by public agencies around the state.”

Anna Carlsson, a former program participant who just started her second year at Harvard Law School and is in a joint program with the Kennedy School of Government, said that while nothing can prepare you for law school, Jon’s support and advice were helpful.

“I called Jon after my first semester and talked about how difficult law school is,” Anna said. “He told me that the first year can be hard, but encouraged me to stick with it.”

Anna credits her experience working on an affordable housing pro bono case with helping her choose a path in law school: “I realized I was interested in housing law and eviction defense work, so I’m very glad I got to be a part of that case.”

“Jon was an excellent mentor as I was deciding whether I wanted to go to law school and pursue a legal career,” stated Wil Mumby, who served in the program position from September 2013 to July 2015. “Once I had acclimated to the day-to-day operations of the law firm, I had unique opportunities for a legal assistant, getting to help prepare for negotiations, attend bargaining, and discuss strategy.”

Wil started work as a legal research assistant to Judge Harold Kahn of the San Francisco Superior Court this Fall. “My tenure as Jon’s assistant provided important perspective on the work that attorneys do and essential training for me as I entered law school and now embark on my own legal career,” he finished.

One of Jon’s first legal assistants, Albert Yang’s path illustrates how impactful the mentorship can be. Prior to working with Jon from 2006 to 2007, he had earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology and a Master of Arts in Education Policy from Stanford University. He went on to receive his JD from Stanford and currently serves as a Deputy City Attorney for the City of Palo Alto.

“My experience with Jon introduced me to local government as an avenue to pursue my interests in law and policy; I was inspired by how much more directly municipalities engaged with their constituents than other levels of government. As Jon’s assistant, I received a breadth of experience and training that I continue to rely on today as a Deputy City Attorney.”

RPLG is now rolling out this program firm-wide by growing it into a group of several legal assistants. The firm is in the process of creating more formal training and mentoring, hosting public officials to give talks about politics and public service. Recent college graduates who are interested in applying should visit the RPLG website.