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Bar News - July 16, 2010


New Lawyers Column: The Mentor Program: Promoting Collegiality at the NH Bar


Jon N. Strasburger
One of the great attributes of our Bar is the collegiality and professionalism of our members. As New Hampshire attorneys, we enjoy a certain level of camaraderie that, unfortunately, is absent in a lot of larger jurisdictions. My goal in this article is to convince you that participation in the NH Barís Mentor Program is a great way to keep that tradition alive.

The fundamental purpose of the Mentor Program is to pair up newly admitted attorneys with more experienced attorneys who share the same areas of practice so that the new lawyer has someone with real-world practice experience as a resource for information. There are a lot of new lawyers out there who may not have the benefit of working in a firm with seasoned practitioners that he or she can approach with questions. Those new lawyers are at a disadvantage.

The newly admitted lawyer faces myriad questions on subjects ranging from simple procedural matters to more complex, substantive questions of law. Also, newly admitted lawyers often have questions about how to best manage the business aspects of practicing law, such as what billing software to use, how to conduct client meetings, how to screen cases, and how to structure fee agreements. There is no better person to answer these questions than a seasoned attorney who has dealt with all of these issues for a number of years and has had the benefit of learning from his/her own experiences.

Familiarity with NH Practice

Anatomy of a Mentor

Bruce W. Felmly, a partner at McLane Graf Raulerson & Middleton in Manchester, recently spoke about the characteristics of a great mentor. The following is a paraphrase of Felmlyís remarks, made at a tribute to Jack Middleton on May 25 at the NH Supreme Court.

Felmly noted that Middleton was a "unique entrepreneur" who invests in people. "Long before mentoring became a fashionable term, Jack was doing it on a daily basis," he said.

Noting three qualities of a great mentor, Felmly said such a mentor can take the organization to which he or she belongs to the next level of excellence:

1. Encouraging, making suggestions. A great mentor is constantly opening doors to new opportunities, making suggestions, and encouraging others within the organization to stretch themselves.

2. Having an intense interest in people. Speaking about Middleton, Felmly said part of his strength as a mentor was listening to, and learning about, the people he worked with: he knew their motivations, their interests, strengths, likes and dislikes.

3. Providing valuable opportunities. The best mentors offer chances for those coming along to shine, such as allowing an associate to make the oral argument or presentation or to take a leadership role in some other way.

 
Some newly admitted lawyers have absolutely no practice experience because they are brand new attorneys; others may have practice experience in other states but are new to our jurisdiction. In either case, it is immensely helpful for the newly admitted lawyer to have someone who is familiar with New Hampshire practice to talk with. While newly admitted lawyers from other jurisdictions may be adept at certain aspects of practice, such as managing a law firm and interacting with clients, they often need insight on the rules relating to New Hampshire practice and importantly, the common courtesies that are routinely shared amongst New Hampshire practitioners.

This is why I feel the Barís Mentor Program goes a long way in supporting the tradition of collegiality and professionalism among New Hampshire attorneys and the judiciary. It gives newly admitted lawyers an opportunity to gain valuable insight into the customs of practice in our state.

Rose Anocibar, the NH Barís member service coordinator and liaison to the New Lawyerís Committee, tries very hard to make sure there is a match for each new lawyer who is seeking a mentor. However, the unfortunate reality has been that there are a greater number of new lawyers looking for mentors than there are available mentors in the mentor pool.

We currently have 46 mentors matched with newly admitted lawyers, but there are at least four lawyers still waiting. I am hoping that those of you with five or more years of practice experience who read this article will consider becoming mentors so we can change this situation. It would be ideal always to have an available mentor to pair with any newly admitted lawyer who asks to be a part of the program.

"Do I have the time?"

I know that many of you experienced practitioners may be thinking "I donít have the time to commit to being a mentor." This is a common concern, but I think you will find mentoring to be less time-consuming than you may expect. Moreover, you will find it to be a rewarding experience. I am a mentor and donít find the time commitment overwhelming. The new lawyer I am paired with regularly e-mails questions to me and often I cannot respond immediately if I have a hectic schedule, but I will respond later when I have the time. He understands the schedule associated with an active practice and has no problem with that.

We also meet about once a month for lunch, which gives us a chunk of time to talk and catch up. I have found it to be a rewarding experience discussing issues and offering advice (hopefully helpful) to my "mentee," whose practice I have seen grow over the past couple of months.

Over the years, I have developed lasting relationships with attorneys whom I first met because they were on the other side of a case that we shared. I donít think that is uncommon in New Hampshire. I think the mentor program is a way to continue our tradition of collegiality.

I hope that those of you who have the ability to serve as mentors will consider doing so because the knowledge you have is invaluable to a newly admitted lawyer. Also, if you are a newly admitted lawyer and would like to have someone who is willing to address the occasional question about the practice of law in New Hampshire, please sign up and apply for a mentor. If you have questions, please contact me or call Rose Anocibar at 603-715-EASY at the NH Bar Center.

Jon N. Strasburger is an attorney with Hage Hodes in Manchester, and may be reached at jstrasburger@hagehodes.com.



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