Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mentorship Programs

State bar associations are reacting to the wave of unemployed law graduates hanging out their own shingles by instituting required mentorship programs. The National Law Journal (subscription required), ABA Journal, and Above the Law all report on Oregon as the latest state to jump on the bandwagon. From the National Law Journal article, by Karen Sloan:

The New Lawyer Mentoring Program — being developed by the Oregon State Bar at the request of the Oregon Supreme Court — will be the third such program in the country when it begins in May. "Part of this program is intended to address a problem that didn't exist in the past," said Steve Piucci, president of the Oregon bar.

"You would graduate law school, get a job at a firm and people there would serve as mentors," Piucci said. "Now, there are so many people who can't get firm jobs and are hanging out their shingle. We're trying to connect them with the professional side of the job and teach them the culture — teach them how to be civil, how to network and introduce them around at the courthouse."

Many state and local bars, law firms and other legal organizations offer smaller-scale or voluntary mentoring, but only Utah and Georgia have bar-­mandated mentoring programs now. The idea appears to be catching on, however. The Wyoming State Bar plans to add a mentorship requirement in July and the State Bar of Nevada hopes to roll out a yearlong program in 2012. Other states are considering similar efforts.
The concerns reported range from large firms which still maintain their own mentoring programs, to law grads who fret at paying the $100 fee to cover administrative costs of the program on top of their law school debts. There is also the real art to pairing up mentors and mentees. I was part of the AALL committee that pairs up official mentor/mentee couples this past year. And I have participated in the program both as a mentee and a mentor. It really matters getting the chemistry right between the two parties. And what looks good on paper may not work in real life. But getting demographic information can help whittle things down. Asking what is important to the two parties in making the match -- do they care about geographic networking? Or do they care about ethnicity or subject matter specialty? These questions are important to ask, if somewhat delicate.

It's important, too, to ask what is the goal of the mentoring program. Here is the Utah State Bar New Lawyer Training Program Manual. It lays out the goal of the program:
The goal of the Utah New Lawyer Training Program is to train new lawyers during their
first year of practice in professionalism, ethics, and civility; to assist new lawyers in acquiring the practical skills and judgment necessary to practice in a highly competent manner; and to provide a means for all Utah attorneys to learn the importance of organizational mentoring, including the building of developmental networks and longterm, multiple mentoring relationships.
Mentors and mentees in Utah receive CLE credits for participating in the mentoring program. New lawyers can request to change their assigned mentors once, no questions asked. A second change can be requested at the discretion of the New Lawyer Training Program administrator. Utah started working on their program in 2005.

The Utah history notes that Georgia began working on their state bar program even earlier, than they did, ten years ago, which would be 2001. And the story in the National Law Journal says that Georgia started a pilot program in 2000. The Georgia pages, though, state that in February, 2005, the Georgia Supreme Court directed the State Bar to proceed with establishing the Transition into Law Practice Program.
The core of the Program is to match beginning lawyers, after admission to the Bar, with a mentor during their first year of practice.

The purpose of the Program is to afford every beginning lawyer newly admitted to the State Bar of Georgia with meaningful access to an experienced lawyer equipped to teach the practical skills, seasoned judgment, and sensitivity to ethical and professionalism values necessary to practice law in a highly competent manner.

The Program was developed by, and is operated under the auspices of, the Standards of the Profession Committee of the Commission on Continuing Lawyer Competency (CCLC).
As I saw in Utah, Georgia speaks about "inside mentoring" and "outside mentoring," referring to whether the new lawyer is being mentored within a firm where he or she is employed or by a lawyer outside of the employment situation. But like Utah, the mentoring is required for all new lawyers in their first year of practice -- that means law clerks to judges have to go through the process when they enter practice.

In Georgia, they surveyed the mentors and new lawyers who completed the program. In 2008, of those who participated the previous year, 95% of mentees and 99% of mentors recommended continuing the program, according to the National Law Journal. Inspired by these pioneers, other states are on the verge of introducing their own mandatory mentoring programs. According to that National Law Journal article, Wyoming may be next, closely followed by Nevada. Washington state was considering a program very seriously, but for now has opted for special CLE requirements for new lawyers.

There are informal mentoring programs in place through other organizations than bar associations. The American Inns of Court, for instance, were established specifically to mentor and encourage professional growth of lawyers and law students.
American Inns of Court (AIC) are designed to improve the skills, professionalism and ethics of the bench and bar. An American Inn of Court is an amalgam of judges, lawyers, and in some cases, law professors and law students. Each Inn meets approximately once a month both to "break bread" and to hold programs and discussions on matters of ethics, skills and professionalism.

Looking for a new way to help lawyers and judges rise to higher levels of excellence, professionalism, and ethical awareness, the American Inns of Court adopted the traditional English model of legal apprenticeship and modified it to fit the particular needs of the American legal system. American Inns of Court help lawyers to become more effective advocates and counselors with a keener ethical awareness. Members learn side-by-side with the most experienced judges and attorneys in their community. (snip)

The membership is divided into “pupillage teams,” with each team consisting of a few members from each membership category. Each pupillage team conducts one program for the Inn each year. Pupillage team members get together informally outside of monthly Inn meetings in groups of two or more. This allows the less-experienced attorneys to become more effective advocates and counselors by learning from the more-experienced attorneys and judges. In addition, each less-experienced member is assigned to a more-experienced attorney or judge who acts as a mentor and encourages conversations about the practice of law.
(AIC About) The Inns have a number of local presences. I would not have known about this organization except that Suffolk has quite an involvement in several local Inns. But there was not an Inn in the city where my law school was, and where I practiced most of my brief law career, and still does not appear to be one. It would have been a good thing.

I was lucky, though, to ask a very good mentor at my employment to take me on. She could be abrasive and quite direct, so I certainly knew when I messed up. But I really got some excellent feedback in that first, traumatic year after law school. It's a very difficult year for a young lawyer. So I am very glad that bar associations are doing something to support young lawyers during that time. Law school, even with lots of skills courses, does not do enough -- could never do enough, to prepare one for the first year of practice. This is a very good development. And it's fair to give the mentors CLE credit. They certainly get something intangible and good out of mentoring young lawyers, but they need to get something more as well -- it should be taking some time for them to really be doing a good job.

The image of helping hands is courtesy of Taney Parish in Ireland.

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