By Megan E. Davis
As The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division works to expand its statewide law student mentoring program, it’s seeking more mentors to foster relationships with the next generation of lawyers.
“We’re asking for a nine-month commitment, the school calendar year, but we, of course, hope relationships develop and it goes beyond that,” said Ashley Sybesma, co-chair of the Law Schools Committee. “We’re looking for people who are involved in their communities, have practices set up, so they can help these students with the transition from law school to practice.”
Mentors are asked to invite mentees to five events, anything from a deposition to a closing, she said. Mentors are also encouraged to bring law students along for local bar functions, Sybesma said.
“One of my regrets is that I didn’t get involved with bar service immediately upon graduation,” she said. “I know it’s difficult for a lot of students, but I wish somebody had told me and explained to me the importance of bar service. Get involved now.”
In addition to mentors to pair with law students in their areas, the division is also looking for lawyers willing to be e-mentors.
“We’ve found that in certain areas like Gainesville or Naples, where Ave Maria is, that we don’t have large communities that we’re able to get mentors from,” Sybesma said.
To assist those students, mentors willing to work with students long-distance via email, FaceTime, and other technologies, are needed, she said.
“You might go to school in Orlando but want to go back to Tampa or Miami or wherever it is in the state that you want to practice, so maybe a mentor where your school is located doesn’t work for you, and it’s better to have someone in the local community you want to go back to,” she said.
“In each area of Florida, affiliates work very differently. You might learn how the bar life is in Orlando and it’s completely different in Miami.”
E-mentoring can also help the program match students with mentors in the area of law in which they plan to practice after graduation.
Additionally, e-mentoring allows the program to accommodate mentors who have their own personal preferences, such as working with students at their alma maters.
“Issues such as how do I address a judge when I send a letter? Do I say judge or mister? Little things like that can be discussed over email,” she said. “Unfortunately, e-mentoring probably won’t encompass as much in attendance of events, but if students are spending the summer in the area where their mentor practices or have an opportunity to visit during spring break to go meet that person and go do something, we welcome those opportunities. Whether it’s in person or electronically, we want the experiences to have the same value.”
At press time, the division anticipated a new webpage for law student mentoring to go live soon at www.flayld.org/students.
“There will be a section where mentors and mentees can sign up, and we’re going to try to develop some sort of database so we can match people,” Sybesma said.
In the meantime, Sybesma encourages lawyers interested in mentoring law students to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to efforts with the law student mentoring program, the YLD is seeking mentors for young lawyers through Mentoring Matters, said YLD President Melanie Griffin.
In a Mentoring Matters section at www.flayld.org, lawyers can find information about mentoring programs for young lawyers facilitated by local bar affiliates.
“Or oppositely, because there is such an interest in mentoring these days, if you’re interested in forming a mentoring program and you’re a leader of one of the bar affiliates, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Griffin said. “There are some excellent programs that have been formed throughout the state, and you can use their materials, questions, or guidelines to implement something in your own geographical area.”
Griffin said she has found opportunities to mentor personally rewarding.
“What I did not realize until I saw it in action is that even when they talk about how important mentoring is, how effectively it really works,” she said. “When you walk in with a mentee to a networking event and say they’re trying to make connections in the community and get a job, they automatically have credibility if they’re by your side. You can automatically help them navigate the process in that room in a way they cannot do for themselves.”