May 15, 2017

New Ways to Mentor

Lori L. Keating and Amy Timmer

Note: This article is an excerpt from the book The Relevant Lawyer: Reimagining the Future of the Legal Profession by Paul A Haskins, ed. It is available for purchase in the ABA webstore.

As members of Generation Z join the ranks of legal professionals, how will mentoring techniques change and how will they stay the same?

The Skill of Self-Mentoring in Episodes Instead of Relationships

Members of Generation Z are known for relying on many advisors—they sometimes refer to this group as their “Board of Directors.” Given that trend, the emergence of the life-coach concept, and global social networking, members of the next generation will have, and expect to have, numerous advisors.

To get the most out of those many advising relationships, protégés will need to develop the skill of “self-mentoring.” Everyday conversations can be turned into mentoring sessions through the simple acts of listening and directing questions to obtain information that will help professional development. The self-mentoring process is a lifelong skill that can be taught to law students and new lawyers. Armed with that skill, they can turn a conversation with any lawyer into a mentoring episode.

Captured moments, or episodes, of learning from someone more experienced are likely to constitute a substantial portion of legal mentoring in the future. Mentoring will no longer be limited to, or be defined as, a long-term relationship with one person. It will also take the form of a network of trusted advisors offering guidance on topics and situations.

Lawyers will organize themselves to provide mentoring episodes, which will encompass mentors helping protégés outside their own firm or legal organization. The rules of professional responsibility will be modified to preserve client confidences and the attorney-client privilege while allowing lawyers to guide other lawyers with whom they are not professionally associated.

Statewide Mentoring Programs

Among the most impactful and innovative mentoring programs to date are statewide programs for new lawyers established through bar associations, supreme courts, or other entities. The State Bar of Georgia introduced its Transition into Law Practice Program, the first statewide mandatory mentoring program for new lawyers, in 2005. In 2006, the Supreme Court of Ohio created Lawyer to Lawyer Mentoring, a voluntary statewide program for new lawyers. Statewide mentoring programs now operate in more than 20 jurisdictions in the United States, and development trends suggest they will continue to proliferate. To support these and other efforts in the growing “mentoring movement,” the National Legal Mentoring Consortium (at http://legalmentoring.org/) was formed in 2011.

Statewide mentoring programs have proven to be extremely successful and increasingly necessary as more new lawyers decide to start solo practices and need mentoring help. Therefore, states that do not have the administrative or financial resources to oversee formal programs are likely to set up statewide registries of mentors for law school students and new lawyers to contact on their own initiative. Responding to the demand for topic-based mentoring episodes, mentors will volunteer to be available to mentor in particular practice areas and on specific legal issues.

Software Support for In-House Mentoring Experiences

More law firms and business organizations will institute mentoring programs that are administered through the help of customizable mentoring software systems like those offered by Chronus, River, or MentorcliQ. These IT applications use algorithms and psychological quizzes to match mentors to new lawyers. In addition, they provide a structure to the program and to mentoring communications, send reminders to mentors and new lawyers to meet in person or engage online, allow administrators to track meetings and progress, and survey mentoring participant experiences. This technology will easily connect mentors and protégés even where geography would otherwise separate them. In-house counsel for global corporations will use similar technology to promote mentoring of coworker protégés online when face-to-face meetings are not practical. Over time, proprietary software systems may give way to an open-source model for mentoring programs that could be utilized by all professions.

Online Mentoring

Social media groups, if formed and moderated thoughtfully, will evolve to provide meaningful mentoring opportunities for attorneys. These online communities may be hosted by bar associations or other legal entities, or be assembled by new lawyers themselves. These mentoring networks may be organized by practice area, practice type, or other criteria. Mentoring will occur via media such as Google Chat, Skype, video, and email. Protégés will post questions to which mentor experts can provide various answers and opinions. Bar associations should play an expanded role in creating these online mentoring networks.

Members of Generation Z do not simply want to communicate. It is an identifying trait of the group that they are co-constructors of knowledge in their interactions online. It is reasonable to expect that the emerging generation of lawyers will not heavily utilize blogs, email, or voicemail as primary tools because they feature too many words. It seems just as likely that the Zers will gravitate toward short-burst communications, often relying on graphics such as pictures (which are, after all, worth a thousand words). When Generation Z enters the legal field, words may to some significant degree give way to images, icons, and symbols. In this spirit, Twitter is already a powerful mentoring tool for some attorneys and will likely become even more so in the future. With 255 million monthly active users who collectively send 500 million tweets per day, Twitter is a rapidly growing social networking platform. By following seasoned experts in the field, protégés can create a customized news aggregator combined with real-time insights on trends and public opinions relevant to their practice. They can also participate in industry-focused live discussions about a specific topic with thought leaders and legal professionals. Through these measures, protégés can build their own mentoring network and solicit advice to help them in their practice.

Gaming is also becoming a legitimate and sophisticated way to educate. More than just a form of entertainment, an interactive mentoring game would be the next step in the prodigy of educational sites like icivics (https://www.icivics.org/games), founded by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; Games for Change (http://www.gamesforchange.org/), which teaches not only civics but economics, climate change, human rights, and conflict resolution, among other topics; and the World Peace Game (https://worldpeacegame.org/). Following these examples, future mentoring experiences may include a mentor and protégé creating and playing avatars in a virtual world of legal practice, including simulated client meetings, mediations with opposing counsel, and courtroom proceedings. Protégés would be confronted with questions about how they would like to proceed (e.g., how to begin an interview with a client, decline an offer to settle from opposing counsel, or decide whether to object to particular courtroom testimony), and their choices would dictate how the game would unfold. A mentor avatar could provide advice in the online virtual world as the protégé considers his options. This engaging model of learning for protégés would provide a safe place to make missteps without negative consequences to clients or cases.

Reprinted with permission from The Relevant Lawyer: Reimagining the Future of the Legal Profession by Paul A Haskins, ed. ©2015 by the American Bar Association. All rights reserved. Available for purchase at http://apps.americanbar.org/abastore/productpage/2150060.

Lori L. Keating and Amy Timmer

Lori L. Keating is secretary to the Supreme Court of Ohio Commission on Professionalism.

Amy Timmer is the associate dean of students and professionalism and professor of law at Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Michigan and Florida.