Jamey Mentzer, a member of the LGBT Bar, has served the LGBTQ+ community at University of Pittsburgh of School Law for many years, providing advice and support as a staff advisor to OUTLaw, a founding member of Pitt Queer Professionals, and an active member of the Allegheny County Bar Association’s LGBTQ Rights Committee. He was recently appointed as the Assistant Director of Equity and Inclusive Excellence at Pitt Law, and is excited to continue to support LGBTQ+ legal professionals in this new capacity.
Jamey never wanted to be an attorney in a traditional sense. He graduated with a BA in elementary education from Westminster College and worked with at-risk children and youth before deciding that he wanted to attend law school. “I knew I wanted to go to grad school, but I didn’t know what for,” he says. “People were telling me to go to law school because you can do anything with a law degree, so I did.” He attended the University of Akron School of Law, graduating in 2006, and passed the bar exam in both Ohio and his home state of Pennsylvania. Still, he didn’t feel called to work as a practicing attorney, so he looked for other opportunities to put his degree to use.
Jamey’s passion for education inevitably led him back into the academic fold. After occupying various positions from academic advising to crisis counseling for a health insurance company, Jamey found a position posted at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law as a career counselor for law students who did not want to practice law after graduation.
“That was my career path, and that was what I’d done,” he recalls. He felt like it was a sign, and he took the job immediately. “Because it was a newly created position, I had to create the job from scratch. I developed the resources and reached out to some people who provided counseling in order to learn how to navigate this new position based on my own experiences,” he says.
For Jamey, counseling students has been incredibly rewarding because it allows him to marry his passion for helping others with his background in law and education. “We counsel for careers, but we assist students with so many other things as well – issues of equity and inclusion, mental health, substance abuse, employment, you name it. All of that stuff comes through our office.”
Equity and inclusion have always been a priority for Jamey. In fact, in addition to taking on his new role as Assistant Director, Jamey is also pursuing a Doctor of Education degree in Higher Education Management at Pitt’s School of Education, where he is focusing his dissertation research on the effectiveness of equity and inclusion interventions in legal education.
Even though he has found his calling in higher education, Jamey still draws on his law degree in order to relate to his students and provide advice that is grounded in his own experience. All of the counselors at Pitt Law’s Professional Development Office as a law degree which ensures credibility with the students, but Jamey says the value goes even deeper. “Legal education teaches you to think about things from multiple perspectives at one time, instead of just having your own view. Being able to put yourself in other people’s’ shoes is an essential part of being able to counsel someone,” he says.
In addition to relying on his legal education, Jamey also says that membership with the LGBT Bar has been a huge asset to his ability to mentor LGBTQ+ identified law students. He takes students to the LGBT Bar’s Lavender Law® Conference every year. “It is such a great resource for LGBT attorneys, judges, and law students,” he says. Jamey finds the Lavender Law® Conference particularly empowering in light of his own background. “Growing up in rural western Pennsylvania as a gay man, I remember thinking I was so alone and feeling so different,” he reflects. “Being able to be in a room of so many people that aren’t just LGBT identified, but are all in law, is really empowering. To have that level of support both professionally and personally makes it easier for me to do my job.”
Jamey values his connection to the legal world, and wants law students considering other career paths to know that they have a myriad of possibilities before them. “There are opportunities across the board in government, nonprofits, corporations, higher education – the list goes on and on and on. There are not many things attorneys can’t do and can’t do well.” He believes that the most important thing is to follow your passions. “It’s just a matter of figuring out what you want to do and leveraging what you’ve learned.”
In his new position as Assistant Director of Equity and Inclusive Excellence, Jamey is excited to continue to support students and provide a safe space for those who feel marginalized. He recognizes the importance of giving an official office to this mission. “Students who have felt underserved and unrecognized in the past can now feel validated,” he says. “I had their back before, but now it’s part of my job. That is a movement in the right direction.”