Bar News - November 17, 2006
New Lawyers Committee: Mentoring—A Great Way To Give Something Back
By: Bruce W. Felmly
The young lawyer was faced with a gut-wrenching dilemma. He had invested hundreds of hours in the litigation. But as a sole practitioner with limited federal experience, success in the case was becoming a long shot. The client was street-smart, unhappy with recent rulings, and putting tremendous pressure on the lawyer to change the fee agreement from hourly to pure contingency. Large amounts of fees were already owed, with no payments coming in. The lawyer knew there were ethical issues looming –whose interest was he protecting, the problem of possibly withdrawing right before trial, and questions as to whether he had the resources and experience to bring this case forward through a multi-week jury trial. He needed advice on the case, and on communicating with the client.
Each week experienced New Hampshire lawyers, volunteers in the New Hampshire Bar Association Mentor Program, provide advice to mentor “associates” on situations like this and a wide range of other practical and professional issues. Over the past nine years, the Mentor Program has helped foster more than 147 mentoring relationships between mentors and associates. The mentor and the associate are matched according to their practice interests and geography, and they develop the patterns of communication which they find most effective. The mentor provides guidance, advice, and insights on the wide range of challenges and problems which confront attorneys early in their practices.
The mentor and associate relationship can be implemented in many different settings under this program. In some cases the associate is a sole practitioner who needs the advice and insight of a senior lawyer as to the running of a law business, the handling of ethical issues, or simply guidance on developing a practice. In other cases, the associate may be in a larger firm but feels more comfortable having an experienced practitioner outside the firm structure to confide in or draw upon for such advice. There is no formal schedule of meetings or phone calls, but most mentors and associates communicate quite regularly, sometimes attending Bar functions together or simply getting together for a beer or breakfast. The mentor does not end up doing the associate’s work, or taking over the file. Most of the advice that is offered is more general than the particular problems of an individual case, although mentors sometimes assist in providing general guidance on particular client issues.
The Mentor Program is a wonderful opportunity for senior lawyers to stay in touch with younger practitioners and to give back some of the knowledge and skills which it has taken them years to acquire. Almost without exception, any leader of our profession can point to some individual in his/her professional background who has provided great mentoring, and this program emulates and seeks to replicate such successful relationships.
The following comments from participants in the NHBA mentoring program underline the value of the mentoring program in their professional lives.
“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 is invaluable to me, I feel very fortunate to have someone I can go to with questions and know that I will find answers. Thank you for the support of such a great program.”
“It is truly my pleasure to support and serve as a mentor. It’s an important service, and I think it’s a place where more experienced members can make a real contribution to the quality of legal services that new members deliver. I’m very happy to help.”
The New Lawyers Committee works closely with the Bar Association to administer the mentor program and encourages new lawyers and senior ones alike to volunteer their time to participate either as a mentor or as an associate. The program is a day-to-day practical success and enhances the collegiality of our profession. We encourage everybody who would benefit from participation to get in touch with the Committee’s representative, Member Services Coordinator Rose Anocibar 603-224-6942 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no charge to participate, and the administrative details are simple and practical to put into play. The relationships can be set up quickly, and generally last for a year, sometimes longer. We hope that you will consider this opportunity and contact us to participate.
Bruce W. Felmly, a member of the New Lawyers Committee, practices with the Manchester law firm of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton. He is a former president of the New Hampshire Bar Association. Contact Bruce at Bruce.Felmly@mclane.com.