Want to start a mentoring program for new lawyers in your local bar?
Consider taking a road trip to Chapel Hill and Pittsboro, where the District 15B Bar is paving the way.
A few years ago, a handful of attorneys in Orange and Chatham Counties saw an unfulfilled need. Recent law graduates were emerging from law school to face a stunted job market. Many were hanging out shingles – not because solo practice was their first choice, but because it was their only choice.
Not all of these new lawyers were rookies. Some had practiced in other jurisdictions but were new to North Carolina. All were smart, skilled and motivated. What they lacked was experience.
The Entire System Works Better
A group of seasoned 15B veterans decided to do something about that. They formed a steering group to iron out details for a program to help make the newcomers’ transition smooth and safe. In 2011, they launched an inaugural Mentoring Committee. Members included Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour, Jay Bryan (now a District Court Judge), Fran Muse, Gary Poole, Edie Salmony, Kim Steffan, Brian Ferrell, Dani Toth and Josh Lee. Later additions include Sheila Benninger, James Rainsford and Andrew Slawter.
In the pilot program, the group paired 12 attorneys – with a combined 237 years of legal experience – as mentors for 12 mentees, who had a collective 28 years of experience.
The results were immediate and impressive.
“[N]ew lawyers are matched with more seasoned lawyers to provide mentoring over the course of a year,” says Judge Baddour in this NC State Bar Journal article. “It is a great way to get advice, seek guidance on the norms and culture of the practice of law in our local bar, and gain insight as to how to best try cases, interact with clients, and advocate and negotiate with opposing counsel. I firmly believe our program makes for better lawyers. Both the mentor and the mentee have an opportunity to learn. Another benefit is that well-mentored new lawyers better grasp the unspoken rules of trial procedure, which improves efficiency in the courtroom. It helps the entire system function better.”
A key to the program’s success is its flexibility. “Our hope was that we could establish a program with a flexible structure that provided for regular meetings of the paired mentor and mentee, but allowed them to develop an individualized plan for how they spent their time together according to their needs,” says Salmony.
Recognition and Praise
Now in its third year, the District 15B program is winning raves. In 2014, the Chief Justice’ Commission on Professionalism presented the group with its Award for Meritorious and Extraordinary Service.”
District 15B is not the only group doing this. Other local bars have established similar programs.
And the North Carolina Bar Association runs a statewide mentoring service. New lawyers can register as mentees. If they need help, they can call or email a mentor assigned to them by the NCBA. The mentoring session ends when the call is concluded, but the mentee can call back later for help on another issue.
Does your county or district bar have a mentoring program? Have you participated as either a mentor or mentee? Send us a comment and share your experience.
- NC State Bar Journal http://www.ncbar.com/journal/archive/journal_20,1.pdf
- NC Bar Association http://www.ncbar.org/members/practice-management/mentoring/