Public service programs can be difficult to mount—busy attorneys are unwilling to commit substantial time to the project, finding a place to host the event can be cumbersome and costly, and advertising to your target audience can be nearly impossible. The North Carolina Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (NC YLD) has found a way to conduct new public service outreach and avoid many of these problems—by going “to the cloud.”
Today’s law practice is saturated with technology such as computers, remote desktops, cell phones, PDAs, and more. Many young lawyers have seamlessly integrated these technologies in their practices: sending emails instead of letters or making calls, using PDAs to check emails anywhere, and using remote desktops to work in the most nontraditional settings. Young lawyers can conduct much of their legal work without meeting in person. Similarly, the NC YLD has used these same technologies to touch, impact, and assist at-risk youth without meeting in person—through its “E-Mentorship Program.”
Launching a Program
The NC YLD launched the E-Mentorship Program in 2009 for at-risk youth. “We were looking for a way to give back to the community and help at-risk youth, a real problem in North Carolina, without organizing a massive in-person program,” said current NC YLD Chair Roberta King. Thus, this program is conducted strictly over the Internet, via email, and via videoconference.
Monica Webb, current Chair of the NC YLD E-Mentorship Committee, describes the program as “seeking to address a need among at-risk youth in North Carolina for attorney-mentors who can provide practical and motivating advice for dealing with everyday issues.”
The E-Mentorship Committee initially looked to partner with a social service organization in one of North Carolina’s metropolitan areas. The Committee found a great match with the Wake County Boys and Girls Clubs, located in Raleigh, the state’s capitol.
“Organizations such as the Wake County Boys & Girls Clubs are much more experienced and capable at selecting appropriate mentees and helping to pair them with attorney-mentors,” said Webb. “The Club’s current programs help to identify at-risk youth and streamline the process of finding the best audience for the program.”
The Committee works to recruit attorney-mentors from not only young lawyers but also from attorneys outside the NC YLD. All possible attorney-mentors must complete an application. The attorney-mentor application provides questions that reveal the attorney-mentor’s interests, educational background, and gender, so that he or she can be paired with a mentee who has similar interests. Through the application process, the Committee and the Wake County Boys & Girls Club work to pair each attorney and a mentee. In addition, male mentees are paired with male attorney-mentors, and female mentees are paired with female attorney-mentors.
Attorney-mentors must complete a waiver of liability, in which the attorney-mentor releases the NC YLD from any liability. The waiver also helps draw the attorney-mentor’s attention to the policies that govern the program.
The policies governing the E-Mentorship Program help ensure that the program inspires at-risk youth to evaluate and achieve their own aspirations by providing them with positive role models in the community while helping attorney-mentors to identify serious issues, such as abuse, and to escalate any matters, as necessary, to other state agencies. Some of the more important guidelines include the following:
- On authorization, all attorney-mentors are subject to background checks.
- Email is the primary means of communication, with periodic video teleconferencing only as requested or needed. Communication should occur at least once a month.
- Attorney-mentors will not provide legal advice unless otherwise expressly agreed to in writing.
- Attorney-mentors should maintain the mentoring relationship for at least one year, although more long-term mentoring relationships are encouraged.
- Attorney-mentors must immediately notify a designated staff liaison of all conflicts, grievances, complaints, or other issues involving the program.
- Attorney-mentors who suspect that mentees have experienced or face a significant risk of abuse, neglect, or physical harm are required to report such information immediately to the appropriate authorities.
Evolving Public Service
The NC YLD’s E-Mentorship Program represents a way to change and evolve an affiliate’s public service projects. While in-person public service programs can greatly benefit your communities, NC YLD’s E-Mentorship Program is an excellent example of how to complement and expand existing public service programs. By combining existing social services programs, such as local Boys & Girls Clubs, to identify at-risk youth with computer technologies, the E-Mentorship Program allows busy young attorneys to stay involved in and positively affect the lives of at-risk youth, “from the cloud.”