Annual Meeting Review: Mentorship Today
by: Chris Fortier
The old notion of quaint visits in the office for mentoring no longer is the norm. COVID-19 transitioned many lawyers to working at home or even remotely. However, mentoring is not dead, it just looks different. Dean Blake Morant noted that mentoring leads to lifelong learning as our need for information is constant. However, as moderator Leslie Haley noted, 55-60 percent of Virginia lawyers are in law firms with five or fewer attorneys. Such firms may not have a formal mentoring program or resources in the firm to foster mentoring.
The Annual Meeting panel included Ra Hee Jeon, Judge Rossie Alston, Anita Poston, Dean Blake Morant, and Jay Myerson.
Mentoring can come from anyone at any time. Judge Alston emphasized listening to everyone, including non-lawyers. He stated that new lawyers come with knowledge of the law but not how to effectuate it. Older lawyers and court staff can show how to accomplish what one wants. Take the opportunity to learn doing things the right way as these folks provide bits of information to help! Dean Morant observed that mentoring comes in a variety of packages. “Find someone who is willing to work with you and you admire their success. Differences can enhance the synergies. While we have mentored online, it is a compliment not a substitute. The in-person presence helps you immensely.”
Poston discussed the effects of mentoring on applicants. Mentoring can assist an applicant with a spotted history get back on course. She observed that the issue areas with biggest problems seen in bar applications include substance abuse, financial issues, disregard of the law, and plagiarism. Mentorship programs should teach professional behavior to those in law school. For bar applications: she looks for those with issues to confront character issues with candor, to be up front. Character and Fitness wants to see you taking steps on a plan to resolve financial issues. Representation in front of character and fitness is mostly about mentoring and going into a plan.
Dean Morant provided a broad view of mentoring and professionalism, where we learn from one another. When one is learning, one is teaching with others. Professional Learning from others is critical to lifelong learning. Law school associations with others is where mentorship becomes important. We need education for the practice of law. We have an obligation to pass information on to the next generation.
Jeon stated that the practice of law is about values and networking with others. She urged young lawyers to surround yourself with good people so that you can ask questions and have the mentoring discussions. You can have multiple mentors such as an ethics mentor or a competency mentor. Myerson noted that he has new attorneys witness hearing, prepare witnesses, and coach witnesses. It is not a weakness to ask for help or ask questions. “You always get a fresh perspective.”
Haley noted that mentoring helped her life balance as someone along the way helped her figure out how to live life as a lawyer and as someone in a family. A mentor discussed the finer points of adjusting to children in her life and balancing her work. Jeon noted that she had this assistance too, as a mentor helped her figure out issues such as asking for time off to care for concerns with family.
The panel discussed how mentorship can go both ways, called reciprocal mentorship. For example, Judge Alston noted how President Myerson asked for feedback on being a better lawyer after a trial with him. He noted this outreach as an example of how someone years out can take advantage of mentorship. Dean Morant noted that mentors get a lot from their mentees. Ms. Jeon pointed out that recent graduates are up to date on and can share developments with technology, for example, creating table of contents in a Word document.
One such mentoring package can come from those outside your firm. President Myerson noted that going outside the law firm provides a different and helpful perspective. Rule 1.6 Comment 5A has the ethical guidance on this, however. Be mindful about disclosing details about clients and cases. The comment recognizes that lawyers need to consult one another as part of professional development. Honesty and integrity matters. Remember, the rule says “substantial concerns about honesty and integrity.”
Chris Fortier is an attorney at the Social Security Administration and the multimedia editor for Invictus. The views represented in this article do not represent those of the Social Security Administration or the Federal Government.