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Bar News - March 16, 2012

President's Perspective: Passing on the Profession


We just finished another successful Midyear Meeting. Now incorporating our statewide Professionalism Day, this largest gathering of New Hampshire lawyers provides an opportunity to reflect upon what it means to be a lawyer and to practice law in our state. We honored those lawyers who exemplify our profession and who are dedicated to serving the public, to providing pro bono service to those less fortunate, and to supporting our communities. This is a good time to reflect on the importance of passing on this profession to future lawyers through mentoring.

The law is a profession. When we become lawyers, we take on a significant role in our society. History is peppered with lawyers who have contributed to and shaped all facets of our world. With this privilege, however, comes responsibility. We have an obligation to ensure that we give back to our profession and guide those who will be our future leaders.

There are many definitions of mentoring. I define mentoring as the passing on of knowledge, wisdom, and experience from one to another. It is when someone takes the time and interest in helping another to advance. Mentoring can be structured or informal. But no matter what form the mentoring relationship takes, mentoring passes on more than knowledge. The foundations of our profession are integrity, civility, and the commitment to provide service to others. We can pass on the profession through our relationships with newer lawyers, and they in turn can become tomorrow’s mentors for others.

Why be a mentor? Mentoring provides you with an opportunity to work with the future of our profession. It is a chance to inspire newer lawyers in their careers by passing along your passion for the profession and what you do in providing service to others. Those who love practicing law find it energizing to assist others to develop their practices and to create opportunities in their careers. It can be fulfilling to know that you had a positive impact on the life of another. As has been shown, many mentoring relationships result in long-lasting friendships.

A mentor offers his or her experience and the methods, skills, and work habits which the mentor has found successful. As Oprah Winfrey has said, "A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself." Mentors provide newer lawyers with a meaningful start to their legal careers. While they help deal with difficult ethical and legal questions we all face as we enter practice, more importantly, mentors can instill the qualities of professionalism and civility in the practice and what it means to be a New Hampshire lawyer. Mentoring also has a much broader scope or reach – it enhances and improves the practice of law and our justice system.

No matter what stage of your career you find yourself, mentors can be valuable. Whether you are a new lawyer starting out in practice or moving from public to private practice or finding yourself coming back into the practice after time off, finding a mentor is a good way to shape your career. Mentoring may also be reciprocal. Many tech-savvy new lawyers today can mentor others who are unfamiliar with the advantages and benefits of technology in our practices.

I encourage those more seasoned lawyers to become a mentor. You can sign up for the New Lawyers Committee Mentor Program or you can simply invite a newer lawyer to coffee or lunch. Mentoring is not time consuming, and it does not require a structured program. Indeed, many successful mentoring relationships have been those formed informally through firms, affiliations on Bar committees or sections, or other associations.

Those who are mentored should keep in mind that careers are a lifetime in the making. It is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to take control and, as someone once said, be the "CEO of your career." I encourage those looking for guidance to take the initiative and find a mentor. This should be someone who can help motivate and guide you in your legal career. This can be accomplished through relationships you build in the profession or in the community or simply by emulating the traits of someone you admire.

Mentoring has withstood the test of time. There is a reason for that – it works. Many within our profession can identify those individuals who supported and guided them throughout their legal careers. Mentoring is critical to ensuring that the core values of the profession endure.

We may have many mentors throughout our professional life. For example, the person you look to as a role model for producing quality legal work may be different from the person you look to for leadership guidance. I have personally had several mentors who collectively have inspired me to develop as an attorney, to serve the profession, and to make a difference. They each have touched and influenced me, and they continue to help guide me still today. I am grateful for their faith and confidence in me.

The philosopher Voltaire said it best when he wrote, "Is there anyone so wise as to learn by the experience of others?"

In remembering Professionalism Day, we all need to ensure the foundations of our profession are passed on to our next leaders. We can ensure this through mentoring. Take part now.

Jennifer L. Parent

Jennifer L. Parent is NH Bar Association President for the 2011-2012 year and is a member of the management committee of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton.

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