Who are your mentors? In a career of any length, the odds are that you will have more than one. I’ve had many different mentors who helped me navigate the world, going all the way back to junior high. Each was critical in their way and at that particular time in my life. Perhaps most relevant to my professional life was my tutelage at the right hand of the Honorable Sam H. Bell (N.D. Ohio), right out of law school. Yes, from him I learned about good writing, courtroom logistics and strategy, and those other practicalities that make up the practice of law. But more importantly, I learned about the respect owed to each person—client, lawyer, court reporter, deputy . . . everyone—who we touched in our work together. And I learned how to doggedly show that respect even when it wasn’t being well earned or reciprocated. These lessons and more I took with me into my practice and they have made me a better lawyer and a better person. When I apply them well, you might call them part of my old boss’ legacy.
So these days from time to time I ask myself—and I suggest you do the same—who are your protégés? (Or if you prefer, your “mentees”?) Odds are that you have one, or many. Perhaps you mentor someone on lawyering skills, or career development, or client development, or perhaps you provide some wisdom on how to balance demands in a lawyer’s hectic life. I invite you contemplate who your mentees are. And I invite you to add to that list.
Over the past few years, the FBA has experienced explosive growth in law student membership. But your FBA didn’t just want to tally up the new members—we didn’t want growth for growth’s sake—we wanted to welcome these students into the profession and provide value with their membership. We wanted to create a professional home for these future lawyers within the FBA. We set about to accomplish this in many ways, but one of the most significant was the development of a mentorship program exclusively for FBA members.
First, to gauge the interest of active members and law students in a mentoring program, we initiated a pilot project in 2017. Eight chapter took part and, happily, the pilot was a huge success so we decided to expand the program to a nationwide basis for the 2017-2018 school year. Two dozen chapters took part in the program, including:
- Broward Chapter
- Chicago Chapter
- Cincinnati-Northern District of Kentucky Chapter
- Dallas Chapter
- Dayton Chapter
- District of Columbia Chapter
- Eastern District of NC Chapter
- Eastern District of NY Chapter
- Idaho Chapter
- Inland Empire Chapter
- Knoxville Chapter
- Maryland Chapter
- Middle District of PA Chapter
- Minnesota Chapter
- New Mexico Chapter
- Nevada Chapter
- New Orleans Chapter
- Northern District of OH Chapter
- Oklahoma City Chapter
- San Antonio Chapter
- South Florida
- Tampa Bay Chapter
- Western District of MO/District of KS Chapter
The participants were matched based on survey responses relating to legal specialties, interests, geography and the like. Mentors and mentees met at least monthly throughout the academic year. The participating chapter kicked off their local program with a special social event and each is currently planning an end-of-year recognition event for all participants. But the exciting part happened in between.
The FBA’s mentorship program provided mentors with an opportunity to make a difference in students’ lives and to gain a renewed enthusiasm for the profession. It also provided mentees with an opportunity for broader exposure in the FBA and an opportunity to talk through career decisions and life after law school. The success of a mentoring relationship always depends on the people involved, how much effort they put into it and whether they “click.” But we tried to put the pairs in a good place to succeed. The program provided some structure—the pairing of mentor and mentee, required commitments from the participants, suggested talking points, and the like—but the program allows for the mentorship pair to build their own mutually beneficial and positive relationship.
Initial feedback is positive. A midpoint survey of participants showed that 76 percent rated their experience as good or excellent and 100 percent of mentors said they would be glad to participate in the program again. Mentees said that the most beneficial part of the program was learning how to begin to navigate the legal world, networking with professionals. Mentors reported that they took satisfaction from introducing their students to lawyers and judges, arranging interviews, serving as a sounding board for career plans and answering questions that the students may not want to ask their professors. It’s hoped that these relationships will continue into the students’ legal careers, and as they become involved as professional members of the FBA.
In the fall of 2018, we’ll be ramping the mentorship program up again and we’re hoping to add more chapters and more mentors so that we can connect with even more law students. It’s tough becoming a new lawyer in 2018, and this program will continue to be one part of the FBA’s effort to make that transition a bit easier to navigate. We invite you to join us and to write your own answers to these important questions:
In whose success have you invested?
How long will your legacy be?