BAR PRESIDENT GWYNNE YOUNG, right, shared words of encouragement and advice at the “Table for Eight” event at the Ninth Annual Minority Mentoring Picnic in Hialeah as Coastal Law student Sharlene Gonzalez listens. The event drew thousands of law students, lawyers, and judges to join in opportunities to mentor.
The Magic of Mentoring
By Jan Pudlow
The mission of the Ninth Annual Kozyak Minority Mentoring Picnic worked like magic.
Channing Lewis, a student at Palm Beach Atlantic University, wore a sticker that advertised: “I need mentor.”
He walked up to Jonathan Etra, a partner and shareholder at Broad and Cassel and member of the Bar’s Business Law Section, who was wearing an “I need mentee” sticker.
Amid the music and laughter and tents of delectable food, they connected for a meaningful conversation that culminated in a mentoring relationship.
“Young Channing came over and engaged in a serious discussion. This is a serious, smart young man. He’s motivated and very focused. I’d like to try to guide him in his career in life, if I can,” Etra said. “And I get the thrill of shaping the future of a fine young man.”
That’s how this picnic with a purpose is supposed to work.
Law students from all over the state — and even some from out of state — gathered at Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah on November 10, hoping to get advice from lawyers and judges while they work to get their law degrees and enter the legal profession.
The picnic’s creator, Miami lawyer John Kozyak, estimated the crowd was even greater than last year’s ball-park 3,000.
“But more importantly, we really have been stressing all year that we want people who are interested in the mentoring. The food is fantastic. The entertainment is fantastic. But we want people to come because they are interested in the students,” Kozyak said. “This year, I think we have the hard core and the believers here.”
The believers were abundant.
Sitting at a picnic table near the volleyball court, A. Jay Cristol, a federal bankruptcy judge, said, “I hope to make some small contribution to the wonderful project that my friend John Kozyak started many years ago. I’ve been coming to every one of these events, and each year it gets bigger and bigger and better and better.”
Miami-Dade County Judge Fred Seraphin said, “I hope to meet some very interesting law students and very interesting lawyers. I hope to benefit as much as I hope to benefit somebody else’s future. I like to share my experience. I’ve had at least four people I’ve mentored. We’re still friends, and they’re all practicing now. It’s a wonderful opportunity to give back. That’s what this is all about.”
Former Florida Bar President Alan Bookman, a Pensacola lawyer in Miami for depositions, swung by the picnic that he called a “great event.”
“I have had a couple of mentees over the years. It’s fun. I get reinvigorated. I see the enthusiasm and the desire to learn, and it’s a good thing. And it’s easy! I just sit in my office and talk on the phone,” Bookman said.
Leigh-Ann Buchanan — a lawyer at Berger Singerman, a member of the Wilkie Ferguson Bar Association, and the Young Lawyers Division and Trial Lawyers Section of The Florida Bar — said she had several mentors through the Kozyak Minority Mentoring Foundation program while she was a law student at the University of Miami.
“I never miss it. I am paying it forward and reaching back to see how much I can help somebody else,” Buchanan said, adding it was her sixth year attending the picnic.
Cinthya Beato, a second-year law student in the evening program at Florida International University, said she hoped to “grab a mentor to sort of give me advice, guide me, and be there for me when I have a question, to shoot an email. There’s always something we wonder about, something a lawyer has already gone through what I am going through now, to give me insight and tips on how to get better.”
Born in the Dominican Republic, Beato said she immigrated to the United States with her parents when she was 9 years old.
“I am in the process of applying for my citizenship,” she said. “You never know, I may end up working for the government. I love this country so much. It’s my home, and it’s become a part of me.”
A new feature of this year’s picnic was gathering under the Leaders and Legends Tent for a seat at a “Table for Eight,” where legal luminaries had 15-minute informal chats with law students, and then switched tables to lend advice to another group of students.
Bar President Gwynne Young took a seat at a table with Camille Smith and Sharlene Gonzalez, both 2Ls from Florida Coastal in Jacksonville, and two brothers who traveled from out of state for the event: Brandon Roby, a law student at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, and Jarret Roby, a law student at Washington University in St. Louis, Kozyak’s alma mater.
Young quickly chronicled her rise from being the first female prosecutor in Hillsborough County, where she gained a lot of trial experience, to Carlton Fields, where she made partner and shareholder within five years when the firm had only 65 lawyers and three locations in the state.
Young advised the law students to get a good legal education, but branch out volunteering in the community and getting summer internships.
“It’s important to show that you are a doer, that you volunteer, that you can manage your time,” Young said.
Too soon, those 15 minutes were up, and Young moved on to the next table.
Next to join this table was Hans Ottinot, city attorney for the City of Sunny Isles Beach.
He got the students’ attention when he said, “When I got out of law school, I had $5 to my name. Now I’m making six figures.”
And, he said, it’s all due to work, work, work.
Coastal student Smith commented that she is always asked what she wants to do and in what area of the law.
“It’s the pressure of you having to know everything about getting experience,” she said with a sigh.
Ottinot tried to simplify things.
“Don’t get caught up in the specialties,” he said. “All you have to figure out now is civil or criminal.”
He got a big laugh when he shared how he interned at a public defender’s office: “When I started looking at pictures of murder victims, I tell you what! Oh, no! Get me quickly to the civil side!”
Three days after the picnic, Brandon Roby reported that he left the picnic with an “unofficial mentor,” Kevin Probst of Legal Services of Greater Miami, and a member of the Bar’s Public Interest Law Section and YLD.
“He offered to assist me in networking with individuals in the Florida legal market and hopefully help me move into the area and find positions that fit my interests and skill set,” Brandon Roby said.
“I had a great time at the picnic. I learned some things about some companies that I was already familiar with, and was able to get in front of some very influential and knowledgeable people. I also learned some things about companies that I didn’t know about, and a few of them are now on my radar in terms of career purposes. As I don’t know very many people in the market, I think it was a good start for me to meet and network with individuals in the area and make them aware of my interests, and hopefully open a line of communication for the future.”