New Jersey Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Tracy M. Thompson has served the state for nearly 30 years as a prosecutor, but she clearly remembers the difficulty she had finding a job in New Jersey after she graduated from an out-of-state law school.
“I thought being from Trenton was going to be enough. I honestly did. A mentor would have told me that was not enough,” said Thompson, a New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) trustee.
Determined to pay her success forward, Thompson seized the opportunity to volunteer with the NJSBA’s Mentor Match program. Although that program has been phased out, it has been replaced with a new program headed by the NJSBA Young Lawyers Division (YLD). Under the YLD program, mentees fill out a form at njsba.com, where they explain their goals so a suitable match can be made.
To both the delight of Thompson and her mentee, Zeyad Assaf, a recent graduate of Rutgers University School of Law in Newark, the NJSBA connection provided an opportunity to develop a rewarding and meaningful mentoring relationship.
Assaf recently accepted an offer for the position of deputy attorney general in the New Jersey Division of Law’s Consumer Fraud Prosecution Unit, pending administrative approvals.
He was in his third year at Rutgers when he began looking for guidance in finding a job in the public interest sector.
“Everyone knows that having a good mentor relationship is super important for new attorneys,” he said. “It can be hard to connect. Some people won’t give you the time of day. Unless you have an existing relationship with someone, it is hard to cold call someone and say, ‘Hey, will you take me under your wing for the next two years?’”
The NJSBA program made the process of finding a mentor a lot easier. When Thompson and Assaf connected, the pair initially spoke over the phone. Later, they met in person at her office, where she introduced him to her staff.
Thompson said being a successful mentor means sharing insights and also taking action to help a mentee. She invited Assaf to several events, including a brunch held by the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey.
“When I invited him to the jazz brunch, I didn’t just tell him about it. I said, ‘You will come as my guest and I will buy the ticket.’ That needs to be the role of the mentor—to be more than a mentor; to be the sponsor,” Thompson said.
“It was a great event, and there were deputies from the [Attorney General’s] Office there,” Assaf said.
“Before I met Tracy, I basically knew nothing about the Attorney General’s Office. I didn’t know about all the different offices and regulatory agencies. Initially, I had mainly considered working at a county prosecutor’s office. Tracy was so helpful, so knowledgeable, so down to earth. That made me explore a different career,” Assaf said.
Thompson said mentors have to be “all in” in the relationship. She said her strategy was to be “intentional, but not to overwhelm my mentee with outreach…. My strategy was to answer all of his questions and provide him with contacts. And get him to the right people,” she said.
When Assaf filed his application with the state, he listed Thompson as a reference.
“I was honored that he listed me as a reference on his application because that showed he felt comfortable with me and we had established a relationship,” she said.
Thompson said she learned a lot from the relationship.
“Zeyad showed me that as a newer attorney, he was not going to sacrifice his integrity and what he wanted to learn in his career by going for the low-hanging fruit…. Sometimes I encounter new lawyers and they want a job, and they will take any old job. He basically restored my faith in new attorneys that they are going to be patient, thoughtful and deliberate,” she said.
To become a mentor in the YLD program, visit njsba.com.