Goal IX Newsletter

Summer 2000, Volume 6, Number 3

A Cross-Cultural Perspective on Cross-Cultural Mentoring by: Holly J. Fujie and Charles S. Johnson

fujieThe Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession recently hosted the National Summit on the Retention of Minority Lawyers in the Private Sector, which included a panel discussion on cross-cultural mentoring. Continuing that discussion, Goal IX has assembled a panel of leaders in the profession to discuss cross-cultural mentoring, a strategy that works for retaining lawyers of color. Susani N.H. Dixon is the Director of Diversity and Professional Development at Holland & Hart LLP in Denver, CO. William F. Lee is a Managing Partner at Hale LLP in Boston, MA. Peter Phillipes is the Executive Vice President, Administration and General Counsel for Stop and Shop Supermarket Companies, Inc., in Boston, MA. Mozelle Thompson is a Commissioner with the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, DC.

What Experiences Have You Had with Cross-Cultural Mentoring?

William Lee – When I first came to Boston to practice in 1976, there were virtually no Chinese lawyers practicing there, so any mentoring I experienced necessarily had to be cross-cultural. I was extremely lucky to have as my mentor James St. Clair, who had recently represented President Nixon in the Watergate hearings. We ended up trying 30 cases together, and he taught me a tremendous amount about being a trial lawyer.
Since that time, I have been head of lit-igation and now managing partner at Hale & Dorr, and I have had a number of experiences as a cross-cultural mentor. Although some people believe that I should limit myself to mentoring young Asian lawyers, I believe that successful mentoring is the result of a number of factors, not merely cultural ones, based on common interests. For example, as the father of 3, I am concerned about the difficulties encountered in the practice by women lawyers with young families, and I have instituted new programs at the firm to support them.

Mozelle Thompson – I grew up in a cross-cultural household; my father is African American and my mother is Japanese. As a result, throughout my career I have mentored minority people from a variety of cultures and back-grounds, including women and gay lawyers.

Peter Phillipes – Our 8-lawyer, 6-para-legal department includes 4 minority lawyers (including 1 woman) and 3 minority paralegals. Our legal assistant staff also is diverse. We are black and white, as well as Asian, Cape Verdian, Indian, and Caribbean, and we recently lost a Filipino paralegal to our e-commerce business. Cross-cultural mentoring is part of our culture, a way of life, and we take it for granted.

How Can Mentoring Help an Organization Retain Minority Lawyers?

Mozelle Thompson – My own background and experience has taught me to value good ideas and that good ideas can come from anywhere and anyone. If an organization truly values ideas, and I do not believe that any competitive organization can afford not to, it should also value a diversity of people from different backgrounds.

Peter Phillipes – The answer to how cross-cultural (or, in our case, multi-cultural) mentoring helps retention would appear to be self-evident. Most people want to “belong” and believe they are valued. Mentoring is one way to meet these needs; but it must be part of an overall program of inclusion. Such a program incorporates challenging assignments, broad exposure within the corporation (including exposure to our parent and sister organizations), and absolute access to senior lawyers in the corpora-tion, key clients, principal contact lawyers at our outside firms and the political and community groups with whom we interact.

Susani Dixon – Lawyers of color are no different from other lawyers in that, to sur-vive and thrive in a firm, they need to know the ropes and how to get from point A to point Z successfully. When lawyers of color receive good mentoring, they experience a heightened level of self-confidence, security, and ownership. They can then focus their energy and efforts on developing the skills needed to become good lawyers rather than just surviving day to day. The long-term result is retention. More often than not, lawyers of color leave firms because they do not feel welcome or feel that they are being unfairly denied opportunities to do chal-lenging, quality legal work.

How Does Your Organization Nurture Cross-Cultural Mentoring Relationships? Is It a Formal or Informal System? johnson

Mozelle Thompson – The lawyers at the FTC are diverse. In addition to the formal and informal programs we use to recognize and encourage workforce diversity, the FTC is a law enforcement agency with finite resources. Accordingly, staff lawyers develop informal and formal working relation-ships based on the structures we use to staff a variety of matters and cases.

Susani Dixon – The management of Holland & Hart so values the roles of supervising and mentoring that the firm frequently requests the names of those partners who have been identified by associates as good mentors and supervisors and consider this contribution in compensation considerations. There are varying definitions and perceptions about what is “mentoring” and what is “supervising.” Generally, the supervisory relationship is formal—one person is assigned to supervise the other. The mentoring relationship is generally informal—two people voluntarily develop a workplace relationship, and one of them takes it upon herself to help the other person succeed. I believe that lawyers of color need both a mentor and a supervisor. My firm encourages both the supervising and the mentoring. When a new lawyer starts work with us, she is assigned a supervisor (formally, as I previously described). The new lawyer is encouraged to develop relationships with other lawyers in the firm and to find, in her own time, the person who can best mentor him informally. The firm recognizes that the most productive and satisfied lawyers are those who feel that they are a welcome part of the firm and that the firm values them.

What Are the Obligations of a Cross-Cultural Protégé?

William Lee – Contrary to what some people think, it is the protégé’s responsibility to make the mentoring relationship work. If a potential mentor has little experience with non-white lawyers, it is the protégé’s responsibility to establish common ground so that the mentor is made comfortable with the protégé. The other responsibilities of a protégé will differ according to the type of mentoring relationship involved. A new lawyer has to understand that she needs more than one mentor, and that different mentors will have different roles in the lawyer’s career. If the mentor is relatively close in age or experience to the protégé, the protégé has an obligation to be open to criticism and suggestions for improving his work, The protégé should ask as many questions as possible to obtain information regarding the firm and the practice. With an older mentor, the protégé is responsible for seeking the most responsibility, delivering the best work product, and making the mentor’s job as easy as possible. A strong mentoring relationship is based on common interests. Yet, unless the mentor believes strongly in the protégé’s abilities and is in a position to be a forceful advocate for the protégé in the firm, the relationship will be of limited value to both the participants and the firm.

What Are the Risks and Rewards of Mentoring?

Susani Dixon – Anytime anyone undertakes to mentor another person, the mentor risks losing valuable billing time himself, disappointment when the protégé decides to leave the firm anyway, and the possibility of offending the protégé when he has to deliver candid and tough feedback. In cross-cultural mentoring relationships, the mentor also runs the risk of having some of her remarks misunderstood and perceived as “race-based.” However, the rewards greatly outweigh these few problems, which can also occur in the mentoring of any lawyer. Those who genuinely mentor know that they have contributed to the development of another fine and skilled lawyer in the legal profession. They know that they have contributed to the longevity and success of their own law firms because many protégés eventually become the firm’s future leaders. And, mentors develop relationships between themselves and their protégés that are mutually enriching and rewarding.

Mozelle Thompson – In my experience, there are very few risks posed by cross-cultural mentoring because mentor and protégé both benefit when they are able to develop new perspectives on problem-solving.

Peter Phillipes – Perhaps we have been lucky, but we have not seen any risks in the mentoring process, only rewards. It has helped us develop and retain a truly inter-esting and very competent mix of people and personalities who are talented, hard working, and committed to their colleagues and the company’s success.

Holly J. Fujie is a shareholder with Buchalter, Nemer, Fields & Younger in its Los Angeles, CA, office; and Charles S. Johnson is a partner with Holland & Knight LLP in Atlanta, GA.

Back to this issue's Table of Contents

 

Advertisement