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Vol. 37, No. 3

The professionalism playbook: Tips from Gambrell recipients

Interested in replicating any of the three programs you read about in “Award-winning bar professionalism programs offer templates for success”? Here, leaders who are behind those efforts share some additional keys to their success.

Small groups, an experienced leader, and no fee

The District of Columbia Bar’s Basic Training program has been popular ever since its launch in 2008. What had been envisioned as perhaps a quarterly offering is now monthly, with the two-program sessions spread over a few weeks. Classes run from 9:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on the two days of the course. Dan Mills, manager of the bar’s Practice Management Advisory Service, prefers to keep class size in the 25-30 range. Attendees gather around a large conference room table, with a few extra seats on the perimeter.

One key to success with a program like this, Mills believes, is for it to be directed or run by a lawyer with experience in a solo or small firm environment. It’s a full-time job at the D.C. Bar—in fact, Mills is adding another staff attorney — but in a smaller-bar setting the course could be one part of a staff lawyer’s responsibilities, he says, noting that the main program investment is staff time.

There is  no charge for the D.C. Bar’s Basic Training, consistent with the Practice Management Advisory Service’s tradition of confidential and free assistance. Dues cover the cost, and Mills wants it to stay that way. “It’s really made a big difference,” he says. “I think it would be a mistake to even charge a nominal fee.”

Mills notes that he would be pleased to share information on Basic Training with interested bar associations. He can be reached at [email protected]

CLE credit, a clear curriculum, and careful matches

The Indiana State Bar Association launched its first MENTORmatch program in 2005. That informal program never gained traction, despite best intentions and some successful mentor-mentee pairings. A common complaint: The lack of structure often left participants unsure what to discuss when they met or spoke on the phone.

In crafting its new mentoring plan, the ISBA looked to the exemplary program established by the Supreme Court of Ohio Commission on Professionalism. (The Ohio Commission, home to one of the nation’s leading lawyer mentoring programs, freely shares its programming details with any other state commission or state or local bar interested in following suit.)

Every Indiana mentoring pair is now required to discuss specified subjects, including professionalism, civility, trust account management, pro bono public services, substance abuse, and mental health issues. Approved worksheets facilitate the discussions. 

Architects of the ISBA MENTORmatch program see the program as easy to replicate in other jurisdictions—just as Indiana replicated key elements of the Ohio program—provided the essential ingredient is in the mix: CLE credit for participants. 

For professionalism and CLE credit to accrue, each pair must meet at least six times in one year or less, for a total of at least nine hours. Throughout the mentoring period, the ISBA monitors the pairs’ progress, answers any questions, and provides additional resources if requested.

To measure the program’s effectiveness, the ISBA uses a participant survey modeled after one developed by the State Bar of Texas, and also informally monitors the level of bar association activity by former program mentees. Maryann Williams, the ISBA’s director of section services and the MENTORmatch program’s administrator, notes that a number of mentees have since participated in the ISBA Leadership Academy—a further boost to professional development—and several have joined bar section councils as young lawyer representatives. 

Like many states that have struggled to answer a pressing need for young lawyer mentoring through a viable matching program, Indiana continues to find that the matching of young and experienced lawyers from all corners of the state takes more than smart program design: Hard work by matching-program staff is typically the key ingredient.

Still, ISBA President Dan Vinovich notes that in Indiana’s experience, once the right model was installed, the program could be monitored and administered by existing bar association staff, with a huge positive leverage for the state’s lawyers. “It’s worth its weight in gold,” he says. 

For more information on the MENTORmatch program, contact Williams at [email protected].

Build program elements from a strong base

The 17th Judicial Circuit (Illinois) Professionalism Initiative has as its foundation an Aspirational Code of Conduct, with a mentoring program and peer review process that build from that base. Its managers, who are with the Winnebago County and Boone County bar associations and the 17th Judicial Circuit itself, say the close guidance and support of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism was essential in creating and launching the program.

The Commission, which sets standards for lawyer mentoring across Illinois and approves qualified mentor program plans submitted by bar associations, law firms, and other law-related entities, sat down with Initiative leaders to develop curriculum content for the mentoring program and other aspects of the Initiative.

Judges and lawyers were then educated regarding both the lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program, which is mandatory for all new admittees in the circuit, and the peer review process, which provides a way to intervene informally with lawyers whose reported conduct  runs afoul of the professionalism code.

Its managers believe the program’s success can be replicated by other court-bar partnerships by incorporating key planning and program elements, including:

  • identifying and involving key stakeholders in the judiciary and the bar;
  • researching successful programs in other jurisdictions across the country, to persuade stakeholders of program value;
  • articulating program goals, appointing working committees, and developing a “statement of professional aspirations,” as a foundation for an aspirational code;
  • widely circulating the draft code for comment and “buy-in;” and
  • developing programming in support of professionalism standards.

The mentoring element requires a committed program administrator, adequate outreach to new lawyer and established lawyer participants, lawyer pairs who are committed to the process and working together, adequate orientation of all participants, supervision and support for participants, and feedback followed by program adjustment. 

With respect to the peer review element, Initiative managers emphasize the following keys to success: articulating standards of conduct for council members handling referrals and acting as intermediaries in response to reported breaches of the aspirational code; choosing individuals who are respected within the legal community to serve as intermediaries; and promoting the availability of intermediary assistance.

It’s also important, the managers say, to track the program’s success over time, adjust as needed, and let things evolve if it turns out that participants are using the program in ways that perhaps weren’t envisioned but that are beneficial.

An Advisory Council bolstered the mentoring relationships by holding group programs that promoted discussion. Surveys were taken after the pilot year, and the program was then fine-tuned based on participant feedback. Starting in the second year, the pairs were allowed more flexibility in writing their mentoring plans, and teams of five or more pairs were created to encourage collaboration and enhance exposure to diverse practice areas. Other structural elements were added to further strengthen the program.  

17th Judicial Circuit Deputy Administrator Thomas Jakeway says that as the process has played out, members of the bar are more often using the peer review mechanism as a “self-help” service than as a request for intervention; that is, lawyers are turning to the designated peers for guidance on handling challenging situations, rather than for intervention.

“The process is more important than the end product,” observes Illinois Appellate Court Justice Kathryn Zenoff. “It was a question of bringing lawyers and judges together.”

 For more information on the 17th Judicial Circuit Professionalism Initiative, contact Jakeway at [email protected].