Bar News - June 9, 2006
New Lawyers Committee: Spotlight on the Mentor Program
By: David M. Hilts
One of the many services provided to new lawyers (those practicing in New Hampshire for five or fewer years) is the Mentor Program, the purpose of which is “to promote general lawyering skills and competency by linking the [new lawyer] with an experienced practitioner (someone who has been in practice more than five years) for one year” who can “serve as a ‘sounding board’ . . . for advice, direction and counseling on the practical, everyday problems which typically arise in the practice of a new lawyer.” During the 2005-2006 fiscal year, the Bar Association has thus far matched 23 new lawyers with mentors. This article focuses on the experiences of the current class of new lawyers participating in the Mentor Program, with 14 of the 23 new lawyers reporting (60 percent).
More participants reported that they became aware of the Mentor Program through materials provided to them upon their admission to practice in New Hampshire (4 of 14) than by any other method. New lawyer Scott Klark reported, “I was very impressed that information [about the Mentor Program] was given to me early on so that I knew the service was available.” Other ways in which new lawyers learned of the Mentor Program included: from Bar Association staff, at CLEs and on the Association Web site.
A significant number of participants (6 of 14) had practiced in other jurisdictions before being admitted in New Hampshire. New lawyer Denise Desmond, who had been in practice in Massachusetts before being admitted here, stated, “It can be intimidating when you get out there and start practicing, even if you’ve been practicing in another state; it’s nice to have someone to let you know that you’re doing things right.”
More participants reported that their expectations upon entering the Mentor Program were to be matched with an experienced attorney who could answer questions, who could provide guidance as to New Hampshire procedure and who could be a resource for materials (5 of 14). Although many more participants reported that their expectations had been met (9 of 23) than those whose expectations were not (2 of 14), more participants reported having limited contact with their mentors (6 of 14), compared to those who reported having extensive contact (4 of 14). An additional factor that may aid in reconciling these statistics is that a few participants (3 of 14) reported entering the program with limited or no expectations.
However, the bare statistics are clarified by the testimony of many of the participants who reported having their expectations met by the Mentor Program, who stated that the program is “valuable for solo practitioners” and who described their mentors as “encouraging, helpful and available.” New lawyer Dawn DiManna offered, “If people use it, it works.”
Criticism of the program by the respondents centered on the perceived lack of willing mentors for the program. One consequence of a limited mentor pool is the lack of total coverage of the state; geographic remoteness can be an obstacle to a good match of new lawyer and mentor. As one can imagine, a program such as the Mentor Program, which attempts to match two professionals in a particular area of the law, has experienced issues of fit as well as a few personality conflicts. However, if at first you don’t succeed, the Mentor Program has successfully matched participants after initial matches were found to be unsuccessful. Currently, members of the New Lawyers Committee and Bar Association staff are analyzing the Program and its materials in order to address such concerns. However, experienced attorneys need to become involved in order to make the program as effective as it can be.
Since 1999, the Mentor Program has provided services to more than 100 newly admitted attorneys, providing guidance in the transition into the New Hampshire legal community (see graph). Over the last seven years, new lawyers have offered the following comments about having a mentor:
“My mentor has spent a great deal of time with me during our appointments. I have called him on the phone with questions, he has given me more help than I could have hoped to expect from a mentor or a close friend.”
“My mentor was very helpful when I was first getting started.”
“The arrangement for mentoring that I had was very appropriate for me, it’s good to know that I can call on my mentor any time if I need to.”
“I think this is a very important program and I commend those involved in it.”
As a result of the positive response to the Mentor Program, many new lawyers have become mentors themselves, and many of the current class of new lawyers (7 of 14) reported that they would consider being mentors themselves and perpetuate this valuable service to future new lawyers.
In conclusion, the mentoring program can be a valuable service for those new to the practice of law in New Hampshire, whether or not such attorneys are new to the practice of law in general. However, in order for this valuable service to be fully realized for the professional development of our Bar, new lawyers must take advantage of the Program and experienced attorneys need to be generous with their time and knowledge. Join in!
David M. Hilts is an attorney with the Department of Justice, Transportation and Construction Bureau.