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Georgia Bar Journal
October 2021, Vol. 27, No. 2

The Value of Mentorship

If you read the August edition of the Georgia Bar Journal, you know that I cut my proverbial teeth in the legal field under the guidance of an influential mentor, Allen Roberts, who was a successful sole practitioner in my hometown.

Working for Allen as a high school senior and when I was home on breaks from college, I had the opportunity to get hands-on experience in a wide variety of legal tasks in the office and at the courthouse. Even more valuable was the chance to soak up the wisdom of someone who had practiced law for several decades.

In late July, I attended this year’s graduation ceremony for the Mentorship Academy of the State Bar’s Labor & Employment Law Section. It was inspiring to hear the success stories from this year’s class of mentees and mentors—the fruits of their commitment to the betterment of the labor and employment law profession in our state.

It also made me remember my time with Allen Roberts as a student in Arkansas, as well as the many experienced attorneys and judges I have learned and continued to learn from as a lawyer here in Georgia. Mentorship has always been important to me, and I think it is critically important to the profession.

The value of mentoring is not lost on the State Bar of Georgia or the dozens of other state bars around the country that have implemented formal mentoring programs for young and new lawyers. Most of us can point to at least one instance where the support and tutelage of a more experienced attorney helped carry us from what we learned in law school to the real-world practice of law.

An ongoing, structured mentoring relationship similar to those facilitated by our State Bar’s Transition Into Law Practice Program is, obviously, beneficial beyond measure to the mentee. But the experienced attorney doing the mentoring also benefits from the opportunity to give back to the profession and remain current and active in a time-commitment-heavy yet rewarding program for all involved.

As a unified State Bar, we are at the service of every lawyer in Georgia. We don’t represent the interests of any one group over another. The reason our original State Bar bylaws provide for the establishment of practice area sections is “to afford a medium whereby members of the Bar interested in a particular phase of law or practice may further the work of the State Bar in the development of the unity of the law as a science and its practice as an art, and in the interest of the profession and performance of its public obligations.”

We depend heavily on the 51 sections that serve both the legal profession and the public by providing section members with practice-specific communications, CLE and other programming and, perhaps most important, opportunities to interact and exchange ideas with fellow practitioners. Therefore, any section that facilitates a program similar to the Labor & Employment Law Section’s Mentorship Academy is exponentially enhancing its value to its members, their clients and the justice system of our state.

It was an emotionally uplifting experience for me to hear Jay Rollins talk about the awesome work of the academy. (See Jay’s related article on page 58). This is a shining example of professional service: seasoned, established attorneys sharing their expertise and lessons learned with younger, newer colleagues for the greater good.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Catherine Salinas was a special guest of the academy for its graduation ceremony. Judge Salinas is a strong proponent of mentorship and, along with Georgia State University law student Madison Hayes, has developed two helpful documents for legal mentors: “8 Tips for Being a Good Mentor,” which you can find on page 9, and a Mentor Meeting Checklist. Judge Salinas’ checklist includes items that mentors should cover during meetings with their mentees:

  • Ask about life, interests or hobbies.
  • Ask about future job plans.
  • If a new assignment:
    • Provide feedback on past assignments.
    • Ensure they understand instructions.
    • Provide a “go by.”
    • Don’t overestimate experience level.
  • Promote mentee with organization or community.
  • Find an observation opportunity.
  • Provide a resource, contact or connection.
  • Ask the mentee what they need (open-ended question).
  • Schedule next meeting.

The last item on the Mentor Meeting Checklist particularly resonated with me: schedule the next meeting with your mentee. I speak from experience regarding the ease with which a good idea or intention can fall by the wayside because of other commitments. So if this article encourages you to mentor and show up on a regular basis for your mentee, then I consider it a success.

Obviously, the Labor & Employment Law Section’s Mentorship Academy and similar programs would not be successful unless both the necessary commitment of time and effort and the ultimate benefits are shared at both ends of the mentor/mentee relationship. For the eager-to-learn younger lawyer, the rewards are obvious and immeasurable. But serving as a mentor can be a revitalizing opportunity to give back to the profession and receive satisfaction from having helped a younger colleague succeed.

For lawyers in sections that do not offer established mentoring components at this time, or those who do not belong to any sections, the State Bar’s Transition Into Law Practice Program (TILPP) is an outstanding resource for newly admitted lawyers. TILPP matches new Bar members with a mentor during their first year of practice for continuing legal education credit. I was fortunate to have been a member of the inaugural class of TILPP participants and still remember going through the program and how it helped create a connection with another lawyer in my firm.

The aim is to provide every newly admitted Bar member with meaningful access to an experienced lawyer equipped to teach the practical skills, seasoned judgment and sensitivity to ethical and professional values necessary to practice law in a highly competent manner. The program was developed by and is operated under the auspices of the Standards of the Profession Committee of the Commission on Continuing Lawyer Competency.

Key elements of TILPP’s mentoring program include regular contact and meetings between the mentor and beginning lawyer; discussions on ethics and professionalism, client relationships, practice management and pro bono responsibilities, among others; an introduction to the local community; and periodic evaluation of the mentor/mentee relationship.

Mentoring is important to the present and future of the legal profession. It’s an opportunity at an early stage of one’s career to continue learning after law school—drawing from the real-world experiences of a veteran lawyer who is willing to share their institutional knowledge for the good of the profession.

The Labor & Employment Law Section’s Mentorship Academy provides a blueprint for any Bar section that wants to incorporate a mentoring program specifically designed for its newer members. I encourage all of our sections and local or voluntary bar associations to consider setting up a similar academy in order to strengthen the future of your practice area in Georgia’s legal community.