Published December 2012
By Christopher R. Bruce
While legal theory and application can be learned during law school, many aspects of the legal profession must be acquired in the workplace, whether in private practice, government service, or corporate practice.
Unfortunately, over the last several years the economy has made it difficult for newly minted attorneys to obtain legal employment out of law school. According to figures released in June 2012 by the American Bar Association, less then two thirds of students graduating law school in 2011 –only 63 percent- were able to obtain jobs requiring a law degree within nine months after leaving law school.
As a result of dismal employment prospects, more and more attorneys are forced to “hang a shingle” and open their own law practices right out of school. These attorneys lack practical experience, and, more importantly, they often lack the option of
walking down the hall to seek advice from a more experienced practitioner.
One of the most important things that can be done by these attorneys –really any recently admitted attorney- at the beginning of their legal career is to recognize, early on, their lack of knowledge when it comes to mastering a practice area, developing client relationships, running a law practice, and interacting with other attorneys and the judiciary. The important thing for these attorneys to do, once this recognition is made, is proactively seek the guidance of experienced members in the profession who have “been down their road” before. These inexperienced attorneys need mentoring.
Within the legal profession, mentoring means a voluntary, mutually beneficial relationship of professional growth, career development, and personal fulfillment that benefits the mentee and mentor, and provides a service to our clients. A mentoring relationship between experienced and less experienced lawyers facilitates the transfer of valuable information and insight into the practice of law.
The focus of a mentoring relationship can involve all areas of professional development. Mentoring can be on issues as simple as setting up a trust account or filing a pleading, but can also include longer-term goals such as becoming technically proficient in a particular area of the law, learning how to develop business, and how to build and maintain client relationships. In order to make the most of the relationship, the mentee should let the mentor know his or her expectations are and make specific requests to meet those goals.
Just as it is important for inexperienced attorneys to seek mentors, it is important for experienced attorneys to take the time to give back to the profession by serving as mentors. Being a mentor does not require a large time commitment, and can be as simple as answering an occasional phone call or meeting over lunch (everyone has to eat!).
Being a mentor is empowering. Helping other attorneys navigate the many challenges they are faced with early in their careers feels good, benefits both the public, and elevates our profession. Further, mentoring is beneficial to the mentor. Through mentoring, the more experienced attorney is able to build new relationships, develop and enhance leadership skills, and is almost always able to learn valuable lessons from their mentee.
PBCBA’s Mentoring Program
Our Bar Association has a Mentor Program designed to provide members with a quick and simple way to obtain advice, ideas, suggestions, or general information from an attorney that is more experienced in a particular area of the law. Mentors provide ten to fifteen minute telephone consultations with the attorney seeking advice, at no fee. Any member of the PBCBA, whether newly admitted or an experienced practitioner, can use the mentoring program.
Attorneys seeking a mentor should call the Bar Office at 687-2800 to request a referral to mentor in the specific practice area in which their need for mentoring exists. The Bar Association’s staff member taking the call will then assign a mentor to the inquiring attorney.
The PBCBA is in need of attorneys willing to volunteer their time to participate in the Mentor Program. Volunteering in the Mentor Program involves only a minimal commitment of time and is an outstanding way to “pay it forward” to our profession. Mentors must be members of the PBCBA who have been in actively practicing a specific area of the law for over seven years. Those willing to serve as mentors should contact the Bar office at 687-2800 and request a Mentor Application.
Christopher R. Bruce is divorce and family law attorney with the firm of Nugent Zborowski & Bruce. He can be reached at 561.844.1200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.