May 01, 2012

Views from the Chair: Leading by Example

Irma S. Russell

In recent years, the Section has made a commitment to attracting the next generation of lawyers to our programs and our work. Numerous articles on the current state of legal education have focused on the challenge of preparing students for the practice of law. Law schools have added practical experiences to their curriculum, and today virtually all of the nation’s 200 law schools provide students with some kind of clinical training. Nevertheless, new law graduates continue to need on-the-job training and mentoring by employers and colleagues.

Many Section members are committed to serving as mentors to young lawyers. In e-mail discussions about mentoring, Jeffery Dennis, a Section member and legal advisor to Commissioner John R. Norris, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, made the point that development of practical wisdom occurs when young lawyers and students exchange views with experienced lawyers. “In almost every walk of life, whether professional, technical or otherwise, when you first join a field you still have a lot to learn. This is where a focus on mentoring is so important, and frankly, a lack of mentoring is where the legal profession may be failing itself today.”

Mentoring is an opportunity for our Section’s more experienced lawyers to help young lawyers and law students gain insight and judgment. Many Section members serve as mentors to associates in their firms and to new Section members. In that vein, the Section is working to strengthen its relationships with young lawyers, law students, and law schools to ensure students are aware of the Section’s resources and provide mentoring for law students and young lawyers.

The Section’s Leadership Development Program provides each participant with registration fee waivers for the Section’s in-person meetings, free access to five “Quick Teleconferences,” and, importantly, a Section mentor. In turn, participants are assigned law students to mentor.

Several students and young lawyers are actively involved as committee vice chairs. This year we launched three new task forces including the Young Lawyer Task Force, Law Student Task Force, and the Social Media Task Force, with the goal to reach out to more young lawyers and law students. Our Social Media Task Force is working to identify best practices for using social media with law students, young lawyers, and experienced practitioners. The Young Lawyer Task Force is developing young lawyer sessions on career development and identifying current programming geared toward young lawyers.

Law student involvement in the Section has been rising over the last several years. To assist students and to help ensure long-term involvement with the Section, we continue to study how to link the Section and students interested in environmental, energy, and resources law. Our Law Student Task Force has been working since August on a plan for significantly increasing communication between the Section and law students. The task force worked with law students, professors, and practitioners to identify several avenues for mentoring and connecting with students and young lawyers with in publications, education, and membership. These include establishing a direct liaison to environmental law societies and journals, providing students with better resources on jobs and internship opportunities, building on programs such as speed networking, and expanding opportunities for students to provide research support to authors and also to develop their own legal research. The Section is also seeking to improve contacts with faculty who teach environment, energy, and natural resources in our law schools.

By sharing their skill and knowledge, mentors help ensure the future success of our profession. They are leading by example and working for the common good.

Irma S. Russell

Irma S. Russell is dean and professor at the University of Montana School of Law.