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ISBA's Mentor Match pairs experienced lawyers with law grads to facilitate transition into practice

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Passing the bar. The term, for most, refers to passing a test, but the word “bar” has a number of legal meanings. Its origin, for example, referred to an actual bar or partition that separated the working and public areas of a courtroom.

For those studying law, passing the bar exam is the only way to jump that bar, the only way to gain admittance to that most sacred of legal territories. Yet many new lawyers find that admittance and belonging are two different things. Armed with law degrees and a license to practice, they really need help with the “how to” part of being a lawyer.

apb-judgetimbaker01-15col.jpg Judge Tim Baker (left) used the Mentor Match curriculum and personal experience while mentoring Katie Boren, an attorney and law clerk for Court of Appeals Judge Ezra Friedlander. (IL Photo/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Informal mentoring has traditionally helped new lawyers transition to life in the legal profession, but more and more legal entities see the overarching benefit of formalized mentoring programs. The Indiana State Bar Association introduced its Mentor Match program for just such a purpose, offering tools and information to segue participants into legal relationship building. Willing to share their own experiences with another, mentors lend a hand so as new attorneys jump the bar, they land on their own two feet.

A movement to mentor

Mentor Match grew from the realization that new lawyers needed further practical experience to transition successfully from law school to the legal community.

Headed by Maryann Williams, director of sections at the ISBA, and Magistrate Caryl Dill, among others, the committee began by researching what other states offered in their mentoring programs.

“We looked at curriculum-based models,” Williams said. “So as you’re going through this curriculum, you’re building a relationship and that person becomes someone you can ask questions of. We didn’t want it just for new lawyers.”

A bonus came when both mentors and mentees who completed the program could qualify for Continuing Legal Education hours or Applied Professionalism Course credit. Indiana was the first state to offer CLE credit for completing a mentoring program; many others now have followed suit.

According to Williams, the curriculum’s purpose is to establish a foundation and framework from which the match pair can build their relationship. Understanding the importance of creating pairs that are not only compatible professionally but also personally can be tricky.

“You can’t match people by computers,” Williams said. “I look at their practice area and the area they practice in. Sometimes I have to do cold calls, where I call up somebody in Angola and say, ‘I don’t know you, but you’re a member. Would you be willing to be a mentor for someone I have up there.’”

Seeing the value in the Mentor Match, organizations have approached ISBA requesting use of the program’s infrastructure that they then adapt to meet their own needs. Examples include the attorney general’s office, Ice Miller and those who choose to have mentoring groups as opposed to one-on-one matches.

To each his own

Mentor Match is nothing if not flexible. As the ISBA committee developed the program, their main goal was to create a springboard from which participants could build a relationship. Participants’ personalities and personal goals ultimately determine what the match becomes.

“We met at an interesting point in our careers,” said Ilisha Dowell, an attorney with the Indiana Department of Child Services. “She [mentor Sonia Leerkamp] had recently left her position where she was the prosecuting attorney for Hamilton County, where I was living. I was in an interesting position because I was looking for my first attorney position, so she was kind of walking out the door when I was trying to walk in the door.”

Leerkamp, now a special prosecutor for Indiana, agreed that the pair was able to gain insight from the other’s experiences. Their relationship became a friendship and the two still keep in touch.

“We got to the point where we would talk about our families and interests outside of law,” Leerkamp said. “One of the things we talked a lot about was that she was working as a paralegal and she had been an attorney for a while, so I really got to see through her eyes the difficulties of young attorneys.”

Concentrating on the curriculum was important to U.S. Southern District of Indiana Magistrate Judge Tim Baker when he agreed to mentor Katie Boren, but the two enjoyed outings to legal functions and meetings and an informative trip to the county jail.

“When you join the bar it’s kind of an overwhelming thing and you don’t know enough to have questions,” Boren, a clerk for Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Ezra Friedlander said. “When you’re in law school you’ve been preparing to enter this community, but when it happened I still felt it was a stretch to call myself a member of the bar.”

lynch Lynch

For Baker and Boren, their mentor relationship established a positive professional connection that helped introduce the new attorney to the Indianapolis legal community. Another benefit was the development of professionalism, ethics and community involvement – qualities important in the practice of law.

“The practice of law is, by its nature, a service profession, and as lawyers our job is to help others – that includes both the paying clients and the non-paying folks,” Baker said. “If you look at public service it’s very common to see the lawyers out there doing that kind of work … it’s just part of the profession.”

Come together

Primary objectives of Mentor Match are developing relationships and sharing information, but bridging generations and creating professional partnerships is often an added bonus.

Reynold Berry, a partner at Rubin & Levin P.C., for example, was matched with a mentee who was older, a circumstance that enriched the experience for both.

“He was new to the profession and I had some experience in the profession,” Berry said. “That said, I had a lot I could learn from him. Regardless of who the mentee is, there’s still a lot you can learn from them.”

While Baker and Leerkamp felt similarly impacted by their mentoring relationships, David Lynch and his mentor, Amy Noe, of Amy Noe Law in Richmond, forged a professional relationship as well.

“The first time I met with her I remember being very frank with her and saying, ‘I don’t know what the heck I’m doing here,’” Lynch recalled.

Her suggestions helped Lynch get on his feet in the years following their completion of Mentor Match. When she called him for lunch early this year, he was blindsided by an offer to become an associate in her firm.

“I had the chance to work with somebody who I could learn from, who has an amazing staff, who has a stellar reputation in the community,” he said. “It was a great choice for me.”•

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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