For attorneys who have practiced for a long time, it might be easy to forget what it was like right out of law school. No network – or at least nothing like the one they hopefully have a few years out; possibly no job; and possibly most important – likely no clue of what it really means to be a lawyer with little or no safety net if one does make a mistake.
While medium or large firms tend to have a formal or informal mentoring program for new associates, attorneys who have recently passed the bar but don’t have a built-in mentoring network at their firm, or have decided to hang a shingle as a solo, or prefer to have a mentor not at their firm may not have a mentor – yet.
To help them, and attorneys who have mentors at their employer but are looking for other mentors, the Indiana State Bar Association announced at the annual meeting on Oct. 15 that they will offer a structured mentoring program that would include six continuing legal education credits for the mentor and the mentee.
Attorneys who participate can receive the CLE credit either by having the ISBA pair them up, or by starting their own mentor-mentee relationship, as long as they follow the guidelines of the program and sign up through the ISBA, said Maryann Williams, director of section services for the ISBA.
Seasoned attorneys who are starting a new venture and would like guidance from someone with more experience in that area can also sign up to be paired with a mentor. However, mentors need to have at least five years of practice to sign up.
The curriculum must be completed within one year of entering into a mentoring agreement. The various requirements focus on professional development, civility, and ethics. By having mentors explain these concepts to new attorneys, the program will also affect how the new lawyers are perceived by and interact with the general public.
Specific requirements for the program – as well as the forms attorneys can fax or mail to the ISBA – are available on the ISBA’s website, www.inbar.org, under ISBA Links at the link for “Mentor Match.” Online applications will not be accepted but attorneys will get a response from the ISBA shortly after their mailed or faxed application is received, Williams said.
Within 30 days of signing the contract, the mentor and mentee will choose and report on how they will address the required topics in the coming year. Mentors will meet with their mentees at least six times in person, for a total of at least nine hours.
Activities suggested include for the mentor to introduce the mentee to the legal community and community at large, including introductions to attorneys and personnel at the mentor’s law firm and court staff; and other helpful information for the new attorney, including prison procedures, and how to get involved with local legal aid and pro bono agencies.
Mentors are also required to discuss substance abuse and mental health topics with their mentees.
To get the program started, the ISBA is seeking at least 500 attorneys as mentors and as of Oct. 21 they had about seven or eight, Williams said. Since the swearing in of new attorneys on Oct. 15, she has received seven or eight applications per day from new lawyers, and expects she’ll receive many more in the weeks to come.
She planned to start pairing up attorneys the week of Oct. 25.
She thinks more lawyers will sign up to be mentors when they learn more about the program and available CLE credit.
“I think mentoring goes both ways,” Kenneth Inskeep, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg in Indianapolis who was featured in the video to promote the Mentor Match program, told Indiana Lawyer.
The video, which features Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Nancy Vaidik, and retired Monroe Circuit Court Judge Viola Taliaferro, among others, is available online at http://vimeo.com/15774263.
“The best relationship is one where not only are you sharing your experience and knowledge after practicing for some period of time, but also includes the opportunity to learn what’s in the head of new lawyers as they start out,” Inskeep said. “Technology is ever evolving and attitudes are changing, so it’s helpful as a trial lawyer to stay connected to what people younger than me are thinking.”
He added mentoring is especially needed more now than ever, because lawyers aren’t as accessible to each other as they once were.
“It used to be you went to coffee shop on the town square, the lawyer hangout, and you could eavesdrop as the old codgers told tales of practicing law,” he said. “When you went to a different county, you’d get local counsel to help you because so much of it was very local and local lawyers were very connected. … Now lawyers practice in a much broader geography but have a much more narrow substantive practice.”
While he has mentored a number of young attorneys in his almost 30 years of practice, starting when he was only a few years out of law school himself, one of his mentees, Jimmie “Tic Tac” McMillian, now a partner at Barnes & Thornburg who started there in 2004, called their pairing “a match made in heaven” on the video to promote the program.
McMillian said Inskeep was there for him whenever he needed help, including meetings for lunch, dinner, and the occasional late night phone call, and the help he received was very beneficial.
Another successful mentoring partnership is between two Bingham McHale attorneys in Indianapolis, associate Sonia Chen, who joined the Indiana bar in 2001 and joined the firm in 2006, and Kandi Hidde, who has been a lawyer since 1994 and joined the firm in 1999.
Like Barnes, Bingham has a program for mentors to work with new attorneys and to make sure they hit certain milestones every few months, Hidde said.
She and Chen are both in the litigation practice group and while they weren’t officially assigned to each other, they gravitated toward each other because of the cases they work on together and their similar styles of practice, which evolved into a mentor-mentee relationship they continue.
Chen said she appreciated that Hidde always had her door open to her and others in the firm who would have questions.
“Just knowing she’s there if I have a question makes a difference,” Chen said, adding that Hidde has been a helpful resource for professional and business development and with day-to-day questions she has.
Hidde, Chen, and Inskeep said the ISBA mentor program is a great idea because mentor relationships are invaluable.
“The most important thing is that each party be an eager participant,” Inskeep added. “A mentor must be willing and available to share what they have learned, while also being open to learning from the more junior person. And the less experienced lawyer needs to take the initiative to ask questions.
“One of more important things a mentor does is to be a supporting advocate for a mentee,” he added. “Oftentimes when the mentee falls on their face and you have to help pick them up and dust them off, you can then say, ‘Let me tell you a story where I did something twice as dumb, … but I’ve still been able to succeed and I believe you can too.’”•