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Vol. 30, No. 6

Mentoring helps new and experienced lawyers make the connection

by Robert J. Derocher

Doug Ashworth needed help. He was short on volunteer mentors in real estate law in the metro Atlanta area for the State Bar of Georgia’s fledgling mentoring program earlier this year, when he sent out an e-mail to about 2,000 experienced lawyers, briefly explaining the program and the need.

The e-mails he got back not only surprised him, he says, but they also validated the need for the program.

“I was inundated with responses of the wrong kind,” he laughs. “I got calls and e-mails from these attorneys saying, ‘Can you get me a mentor? This is a wonderful program.’ ”

Those lawyers haven’t been the only ones calling Ashworth. More than 20 bar leaders, some from as far away as Canada and Scotland, have quizzed him on the Georgia bar’s Transition into Law Practice Program, a mandatory mentoring arrangement that matches up new bar admittees with experienced attorneys. Launched in January, it is believed to be the first one-on-one mandatory statewide bar association mentoring program.

Ashworth’s work as the program’s director, his own experiences as a lawyer, and his conversations with other bar leaders and lawyers have convinced him that Georgia is on the right track. “There is a hunger for mentoring,” he says. Several state and local bars are also seeing the need, taking a variety of approaches to foster formal and informal mentoring programs for new lawyers.

While experienced and new lawyers say mentoring can be rewarding and enlightening, bar leaders say it can be challenging to implement, monitor, and encourage such programs. Time constraints, finding the right mix of mentors and mentees, and overcoming fears and misconceptions can pose obstacles to mentoring programs.

Despite the challenges, many bar leaders believe mentoring can pay dividends not only for individual lawyers, but also for bar associations looking to involve newer bar members while engaging veteran members in more activities.

It’s often been remarked that the informal system in which a partner took a new associate under his or her wing has broken down because of the increased business pressures within the profession. For the nation’s many new lawyers, and for those who are concerned with their development as professionals, mentoring may be an idea whose time has come.

‘A resurgence of interest’

When Ashworth talks to new admittees about Georgia’s mentoring program, he recalls his own travails as a solo practitioner. “I would have killed for the opportunity to participate in a program like this when I hung out my shingle 15 years ago,” he says. “What you are going to learn is what I had to learn the hard way, both professionally and personally.”

Mentoring for solo practitioners has traditionally been lacking, Ashworth says. And even though informal mentoring goes on regularly at many law firms, “the need has always been there” for guidance for newer lawyers, says Ida Abbott, an Oakland, Calif., attorney and consultant and author of The Lawyer’s Guide to Mentoring. “The challenges are primarily time and the competitive economic pressures. Everything is focused on [billable] hours.”

That pressure new associates feel when they first join a firm also plays into a reluctance to seek out help, Abbott and others say. “I think it’s a matter of pride,” says Lane Turturice, a lawyer in Washington, Pa., who worked with a mentor through the Washington County Bar Association. “Nobody likes to admit that they’re not proficient in their own profession.”

Formal mentoring has also suffered through the years from generational gaps between mentors and mentees, according to Abbott. What worked for a new lawyer 20 or 30 years ago might not work today—not to mention the differing lifestyles and attitudes toward work-life balance. “Young lawyers often don’t think their mentors are people they want to be like,” Abbott says. “They say, ‘I don’t want to be you.’ ”

While these obstacles are real, “there is a huge resurgence of interest” in mentoring, says Abbott, who has made presentations and assisted several bar associations in examining mentoring programs over the last few years. Much of it she attributes to attrition in the legal profession, which has left firms looking to get new associates more quickly acclimated.

“There’s been a renewed interest lately, and I don’t quite know why,” says Kathy Sabol, executive director of the Washington County bar. The Columbus (Ohio) Bar Association, meanwhile, got a taste of the demand for solid, quality mentoring in 2003 when it surveyed its members. The survey found that 88 percent of the associates who responded believed that mentoring was essential for career development, but only 27 percent said there was a mentor available to them when they needed one.

Young lawyers, in particular, were “looking for a tool kit,” says Annette Hudson-Clay, diversity director at the Columbus bar. “They said, ‘Teach me how to be a successful attorney,’ rather than, ‘Introduce me to your circle of friends.’ ”

And it’s not just young lawyers fresh out of law school who are looking for guidance, says Alysha Clous, assistant bar counsel and coordinator of the CBA’s mentoring program. “We’ve gotten requests from people who have been practicing for 15 years or more, who were changing direction and looking for help,” she notes.

Another driver of interest in mentoring, Clous and others say, is a growing demand for greater professionalism. Some judges and more experienced lawyers have noticed the need for more guidance and awareness of courtroom and legal professionalism and etiquette among newer lawyers, says Ashworth, recalling a National Council of Bar Presidents study in the mid-1990s that noted declining professionalism and civility.

But encouraging new lawyers and more experienced ones to participate in mentoring programs can be a challenge for bar associations. Not so in at least two states—Georgia and Ohio—where mandatory mentoring has arrived.

Mandatory programs take shape

The roots of Georgia’s mentoring program go back a decade, when a bar committee on professional standards explored internships in the wake of the NCBP report, Ashworth says. In 2000-01, a two-year pilot project featuring compulsory mentoring combined with continuing legal education credit for 100 mentors and 100 mentees showed great promise. “It gave them practical skills on one level and competent practices on another,” Ashworth explains.

But it wasn’t until this January, after a review of the pilot project by the bar’s board of governors and the Georgia Supreme Court, that a shortened one-year mandatory mentoring program was launched. Features of the program include regular meetings and discussions between mentors and mentees and required CLE, with all mentoring activities overseen by Ashworth’s office.

Through the first four months of the program, 696 new lawyers enrolled and 780 mentors were appointed by the state Supreme Court, Ashworth says. About 85 percent of the mentees are receiving their mentoring from “inside mentors,” or attorneys in their firm or office. About 5 percent of the new lawyers are solo practitioners and are receiving mentoring from “outside mentors” who are usually solos themselves, while the remaining 10 percent of new enrollees are not employed in the legal field and are participating in group mentoring sessions.

To pay the $260,000 cost for the first year, the board of governors approved a $10 per year dues increase for bar members. Georgia law requires the program to be thoroughly reviewed at the end of three years by the board of governors and the state Supreme Court to determine if it will continue.

“Even though it’s mandatory, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the voluntary spirit of the bar,” Ashworth says. “Overall, the implementation has been smoother than I expected. Every new attorney has been pleased to have someone to go to.”

Ashworth expects that Georgia’s foray into mandatory mentoring will be watched closely by other state bars and state supreme courts. One state that isn’t waiting is Ohio, which started its own pilot project in May after more than 30 bar associations across the state said they strongly supported such a program.

Using Georgia as a model, Ohio’s Lawyer to Lawyer Mentoring Program gives new lawyers the option of participating in the mentoring pilot program and attending six hours of the existing mandatory new lawyer training course, or participating in 12 hours of the new lawyer training course without mentoring. As in Georgia, new lawyers will work with mentors who have been approved by the state Supreme Court. The pilot calls for at least six one-hour, in-person meetings between mentor and mentee over the course of a year, as well as six hours of required CLE.

“The mentoring relationship,” the Supreme Court’s Commission on Professionalism states, “should foster the development of the new lawyer’s practical skills and increase his or her knowledge of legal customs; should create a sense of pride and integrity in the legal profession; should promote collegial relationships among legal professionals and involvement in the organized bar; should improve legal ability and professional judgment; and should encourage the use of best practices and highest ideals in the practice of law.”

Guidance for women and lawyers of color

The Columbus Bar Association’s feedback to the Ohio Supreme Court on mentoring was a reflection of its members’ desire for mentoring. That is why the CBA has strengthened its voluntary mentoring program over the last few years.

The CBA surveyed other metropolitan bar associations in 2003 and found that “most people were unhappy with what they had done,” says Alex Lagusch, the bar’s executive director. “There wasn’t a role model for us to work with.”

While the state Supreme Court was looking at mandatory mentoring at the same time, the CBA was looking for a different kind of program that was longer term and more individualized, Clous says. With a push from former bar President Sam Weiner, a committee drafted an extensive questionnaire for prospective mentees, homing in on issues important to young attorneys, such as work-life balance, business development, professionalism, ethics, and substance abuse. At the same time, bar leaders developed a roster of potential mentors and the areas where they could best provide mentoring.

“We sat down with the lists, matching them one by one. It’s a crucial part of our success,” Clous says. “We knew the people. We could say, ‘He’s on his third wife, maybe he’s not good for someone looking to talk about work-life balance.’ ”

Also key to the program’s success, Clous says, is a training program for mentors and mentees that was developed with assistance from Abbott. Flexibility—giving mentors and mentees an opportunity to change, if necessary—is also important, Clous adds. “This isn’t a marriage,” she notes. “We can move people around if things aren’t working.”

There were 150 mentees in the first year of the program, and as it continues to grow, say Lagusch and Hudson-Clay, a top priority will be making mentoring a bigger part of the bar’s overall diversity initiative. The bar’s survey found that white males were the most satisfied with mentoring opportunities, while black females were the least satisfied.

“You’re generally mentoring those that are most like you,” Hudson-Clay says. “Informal mentoring has been going on at minority bars for years.”

The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York has also found success in its mentoring program, which is geared to third-year law students and first-year associates. Meeting, speaking with, and learning from experienced women lawyers and judges who had to break through barriers is an important experience that has helped the bar’s program grow, says Lisa Bauer, co-chair of the bar’s mentoring committee.

“It’s not just enough [for women] to work hard,” she says. “You have to work hard and be incredibly well connected.” And sometimes, she says, mentoring relationships between women address nuances that a new lawyer might otherwise learn the hard way. “You can only find out from another woman that you can wear pantsuits only before certain judges,” she notes.

Geographical challenges

Finding enough mentors and mentees and having them in the right geographical and practice areas can be a challenge for mentoring programs. Virginia has seen explosive population growth in its Washington-area suburbs for the last two decades, and that is where the greatest need for mentors is, says Sharon Tatum, executive director of the Virginia Bar Foundation. The foundation’s fellows—its most senior members—have been active in mentoring for the last decade, she says.

“We’d like to expand the program,” she notes, “but we’ve had fellows [outside northern Virginia] who haven’t had enough assignments, but we don’t have enough fellows in northern Viriginia.”

Smaller bars benefit, too

It’s not just the big state and metro bars that see benefits from mentoring. The Washington County bar has about 300 members, and mentoring is alive and well there, Sabol says. The program got a big boost a few years ago when the bar association began picking up the lunch tabs of mentors and mentees. As a result, Sabol says, there have been as many as 10 active pairs of mentors and mentees.

In Montana, mentoring of a different sort has worked for several years. Instead of monthly, one-on-one meetings (which can be difficult in such a large state with so little population density), the State Bar of Montana holds an annual “Rookie Camp” for lawyers with less than five years’ experience. The camp, usually held in conjunction with the bar’s annual meeting, is an intensive half-day to daylong program that connects new lawyers with a “faculty” of more experienced lawyers and judges.

Issues such as courthouse protocol, work-life balance, and attorney-firm interactions are routinely covered, says Chris Manos, the bar’s executive director. About 50 to 70 “rookies” attend each year, with a faculty of about 30 to 35, he says. Sometimes, informal, one-on-one mentoring results from the program.

“They each give out their business cards, and contacts are made that way,” Manos notes. “I hear anecdotally that someone will say they got a call from [a rookie]. We encourage that sort of contact up front.”

Getting the word out

When it comes to measuring the success of a mentoring program, surveys can be helpful, but word of mouth is vital to a program’s continued success.

“As much as I learned in law school, there are a lot of practical things that are best learned through experienced lawyers. It was nice to have someone who has no direct oversight over you to talk to,” says Christine Watchorn, a mentee in the Columbus bar program. “I became so enchanted with the program, I’m now on the mentoring committee.”

Howard McElroy, a Virginia Bar Foundation fellow, was a mentor to a new female attorney not far away from him in the rural southwestern area of the state. They alternated locations for lunch each month, and often discussed the challenges of a rural practice.

“I was seeking to reconnect with a younger member of the bar,” McElroy says. “I was also seeking to repay the many favors that were paid to me by senior members of the bar over the years.”

Indeed, one of the best byproducts of mentoring, say bar leaders and participants, is the camaraderie and involvement it builds in the association, particularly for young lawyers who might not have otherwise been involved in bar activities.

“I would encourage young attorneys to seek mentoring,” Watchorn says. “It’s a connection into the established bar in the community where you live and practice.”

Gretchen Koehler Mote agrees. She is a member of the Columbus bar’s mentoring committee, a mentor there, and a pilot mentor in the state Lawyer to Lawyer initiative.

“For bar associations looking to reach out to new, young lawyers, mentoring programs are a good way to get them involved,” she says.

But why should a young lawyer under intense pressure to produce—and bill—make time for even a monthly lunch appointment? “I think it’s valuable to have someone to talk to because of all the pressures we face,” Mote says. BL

A closer look at the State Bar of Georgia Transition into Law Practice Program

Who’s required to take part in the program? New members of the State Bar of Georgia (a unified bar), admitted after June 30, 2005. Lawyers with more than two years’ experience in other states are exempt.

How are mentors selected? In the new lawyer’s firm (or district attorney, public defender, or other publicly funded office) his or her supervising attorney designates a mentor within the firm (known as an “inside mentor”). The mentor then files an application with the Transition into Law Practice Program office, which then makes a recommendation to the state Supreme Court, which must authorize the mentor.

What about solo practitioners and new admittees who are unemployed or not actively seeking employment as an attorney? Solo practitioners can nominate a mentor (known as an “outside mentor”), or the Transition into Law Practice Program office assists the new admittee in matching up with a mentor. Again, the state Supreme Court must approve the assignment. New admittees who are not working in the legal profession must take part in a group mentoring program developed by the program office.

What is required of the 12-month mentoring program? There must be regular contact and meetings between the mentor and new lawyer, with continuing discussions on: ethics and professionalism; relationships with clients, other lawyers, the judiciary, and the public; professional work habits, organizational skills, and practice management; economics of practicing law; and responsibility and opportunities for pro bono work, bar activities, and community service.

What about CLE? CLE programs are overseen by the Georgia Institute of CLE, a consortium of all five law schools in the state and the state bar. The mentoring program matches lawyers with CLE programs that fit their practice areas. Two CLE programs are required: “Enhanced Bridge the Gap” and “The Fundamentals of Law Practice.” Mentors may attend an optional CLE training and orientation and receive CLE credit at no cost to them.

How is mentoring monitored and certified? The program office can check in with a mentor or mentee at any time to monitor their progress. At the end of the 12-month mentoring period, the mentor must legally certify that the mentee has completed the minimum requirements. The program office will also verify CLE requirements to ensure completion of the program.


Ida Abbott practiced law for 20 years, and is a veteran consultant and an author of three books geared toward mentoring and lawyers’ professional development. She has worked with several law firms, bar associations, and legal organizations on mentoring. Bar associations, she says, are in a good position to foster mentoring in their communities, especially when it comes to helping new lawyers find mentors.

Abbott offers some advice for bar associations as they prepare to launch or expand mentoring programs:

| Provide clear expectations. Those establishing the mentoring program should define for members what they want the program to do for mentors and mentees. “If it’s going to be a social get-together, make sure people know that up front.” | Find someone to diligently manage the program. Care should be taken in matching mentors and mentees, monitoring their efforts, and ensuring that each is making progress. “You have to have someone who’s paying attention.” | Thoroughly evaluate the program on a regular basis. Some questions to ask mentors and mentees: “ ‘Was the program’s purpose clearly understood?’ ‘Did the participants receive adequate training?’ ‘Did the matching process make effective matches?’ ‘Were the benefits worth the cost?’ ” | Take your participants seriously, and help them as much as possible. “If people are participating, it’s because they want to. You’re starting out with someone with motivation and commitment.” | Let the mentees have a strong say in the program’s direction. While the guidance they receive from more established lawyers is important, it’s also important to let the mentees do some guiding. What do they hope to gain from the program? How can it best meet their needs? “It almost has to be mentee-driven. This is being done for the mentee’s benefit.” | Don’t stick to only the traditional older-younger mentoring model. “You can do peer mentoring. It doesn’t have to be driven from the top down.” | Opposites can attract. It is often beneficial to match a mentee with a mentor who is not in the same practice area, is not of the same gender or race, or has a personality that differs in some way from the mentee’s. “Sometimes, there’s a lot of value in talking to people who are not like you.” | Use the bar’s young lawyers division to promote the program, and encourage participants to talk it up. “Once they’ve had a good mentoring experience, they’ll have others.”

Want more? Ida Abbott can be found on the Web at



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A group of time-tested lawyers and judges shamelessly call themselves “the dinosaurs,” and they’re not afraid to seek out a mentor or two of their own when it comes to things like sorting out Microsoft Excel or equipping a laptop for wireless Internet. The Westchester County Bar Association’s “Mentor a Dinosaur” program has helped open lines of communication and mentoring that are teaching lawyers young and old some things about each other.

“It’s amazing how many of them are managing partners and judges who are thrilled with having this opportunity—and they’re the ones who started calling themselves dinosaurs,” says Amy Patterson, the bar’s executive director. “It’s a mentoring relationship in reverse.”

The program began last year at the 2,300-member bar with an idea that grew out of a committee working on the bar’s Web site. It became apparent then that some senior bar members needed guidance, Patterson says. What developed was a short questionnaire that quickly led to 25 older lawyers being paired with more tech-savvy new lawyers and third-year law students.

Efforts were made to keep the mentoring informal and easy to participate in, to accommodate schedules and individual needs. While the mentees were eagerly looking for help, it wasn’t hard to find eager mentors, as well, Patterson says.

“Younger attorneys are very nervous sometimes around older attorneys, so if you establish a relationship where they’re the ones answering questions, they feel more comfortable,” Patterson says. And once a comfortable relationship is established, she adds, the mentoring “sort of goes both ways,” giving the new lawyers and law students a chance to learn, too.

Early feedback on the program has been positive. “We’re finding that it’s growing, and the word is getting around,” Patterson says.