January 27, 2006
Mentoring Lawyer to Lawyer
~ written by Denise Platfoot Lacey, Secretary to the Supreme Court of Ohio Commission on Professionalism
To me, mentoring a young attorney is a way of "paying it forward." I was fortunate to have been mentored by my mother, and I, in turn, have mentored many young attorneys over the years.
We all know that there is a great divide between law school and learning how to practice law and operate a law practice. It is incumbent upon us to give of our knowledge to less-experienced lawyers to help them bridge this gap.
We can all "pay it forward" and pass along important lessons to young attorneys that will last them a lifetime.
--Heather G. Sowald, Sowald, Sowald & Clouse
Most of us can recall at least one lawyer or judge who guided us at one time or another in our legal career, helping us to learn the ropes, supporting us in our goals, answering the questions we were too embarrassed to ask someone else and teaching us the value of integrity and honor in the legal profession. Their role likely morphed from a teacher to a coach to a networker to a counselor to an advocate to a friend. In our minds, our success is attributable in part to them.
Likely, we, too, have acted as mentors to others. Perhaps it was a law clerk we consistently coached to improve their research or memo-writing, a colleague we introduced to practitioners in a new area of law, an associate we invited to bar association activities in which we were very active, a new lawyer we took to lunch to share the preferences - and yes, the quirks - of the judges before which the new lawyer was appearing or the partner we supported during their time away from and return to practice after treatment for alcohol addiction. Whether we would characterize ourselves as mentors in any of these situations is irrelevant. The truth is our assistance, our teaching and our support resulted in our mentoring other lawyers. This is the tradition in the legal profession, particularly with new lawyers.
Long before law schools were accredited, experienced lawyers taught new lawyers the core concepts of the legal profession and the practical aspects of practicing law1. The mentoring tradition has only persevered over time despite formalized standards in legal education. Indeed, our aspirational obligations encourage us to improve the practice of law by assisting law schools in the education of our future lawyers and assisting in continuing legal education efforts.
By mentoring new lawyers, we not only fulfill our aspirational duties, but we welcome our colleagues into the profession with the collegial message that we do not practice law exclusive of one another. Instead, we assist each other in our efforts to become competent practitioners and to succeed as professionals. In the process, we strengthen the quality of the legal profession.
The benefits of mentoring to new lawyers are obvious. Mentors can help new lawyers develop practical skills; increase their knowledge of legal customs; improve their legal ability and professional judgment; and learn to utilize the best practices and highest ideals in the practice of law. Further, mentoring relationships among lawyers create a sense of pride and integrity in the legal profession, promote collegial relationships and emphasize the importance of involvement in the organized bar.
Recognizing these and other benefits of mentoring relationships in the legal profession, especially for new lawyers, the Supreme Court of Ohio has adopted a temporary rule provision which will allow new lawyers admitted in May, 2006, to participate in a mentoring program. The Lawyer to Lawyer Mentoring Program will begin as a one-year pilot project which will link an optional mentoring component to the New Lawyer Training course which new lawyers are required to attend within approximately one year of admission.
New lawyers admitted in May, 2006, will have the option of completing the twelve hour New Lawyer Training course as currently required by Gov. Bar R. X(3)(H), or completing six hours of a New Lawyer Training course and participating in the mentoring program, which will satisfy the remaining six hours of New Lawyer Training. Lawyers who serve as mentors will receive six hours of continuing legal education credits, including one hour of ethics, one hour of professionalism and one half hour of substance abuse credit.
While the New Lawyer Training course is administered through classroom instruction, the Lawyer to Lawyer Mentoring Program is interactive. New lawyers will meet with their mentors one-on-one to participate in learning activities together. The curriculum is comprised of concepts of professionalism, which are intended to be an introduction to the legal community and community at large; to personal and professional development; to ethics; to law office management; and to client communication, advocacy and negotiation.
Each new lawyer will personalize his or her own curriculum by selecting activities that meet his or her particular practice setting, individual needs and personal goals and includes a discussion about substance abuse and mental health issues. The activities selected will serve as a checklist which the new lawyer must complete with his or her mentor over the course of one year and during a minimum of six one-hour in-person meetings. To facilitate discussions between the mentor and new lawyer, supplements for each activity will be provided as an outline of topics to discuss and resources which can be consulted.
If a new lawyer chooses to participate in the Lawyer to Lawyer Mentoring Program, he or she will be required to complete an application on which he or she nominates three choices of mentors. The Supreme Court of Ohio Commission on Professionalism, which will administer the program, ultimately matches each new lawyer to a mentor, taking into consideration to the extent possible the three preferred mentors nominated by the new lawyer.
Mentors must be experienced lawyers who have superior interpersonal skills and the ability to impart quality lessons about the best practices and highest values of the legal profession. The qualifications of prospective mentors will be screened and must ultimately be approved by the Commission before a lawyer may serve as a mentor. Mentors must meet the following minimum qualifications: the lawyer is an attorney in Ohio registered active and in good standing; the lawyer is admitted to practice law in Ohio for not less than five years; the lawyer has a reputation among judges and peers in the local legal community for competence and ethical and professional conduct; the lawyer has never been sanctioned, suspended or disbarred from the practice of law in any state or jurisdiction; and the lawyer carries professional liability insurance with the minimum limits of $100,000 per occurrence and $300,000 in the aggregate, or its equivalent, except that government attorneys, in-house counsel for corporations, lawyers employed by non-profit agencies, or lawyers mentoring new lawyers in their firm or office are exempt from this requirement.
The success of this educational program depends upon experienced and reputable lawyers who are willing to commit the time to volunteer as mentors so that they may convey the core values and best practices of the profession to new lawyers. Most of us are probably already doing this. Why not participate in a state-wide mentoring program and formalize the relationships that were likely to build anyway? As Ohio Supreme Court Justice Terrence O'Donnell has so aptly expressed in his advocacy for the mentoring program, "What we sow in our mentoring efforts we will reap in the future of our profession. I know. I was mentored. I had superior professional guidance. Now it's our time to fill the role as a mentor."
We are all needed to teach new lawyers the values of the legal profession. Please consider volunteering as a mentor in the Lawyer to Lawyer Mentoring Program. Information about the program and applications can be found at www.supremecourtofohio/mentoring.
1 William R. Trail & William D. Underwood, The Decline of Professional Legal Training and a Proposal for Its Revitalization in Professional Law Schools, 48 Baylor L. Rev. 201, 204 (1996)