The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

The Value of Mentorship in a New(er) Lawyer’s Career

President's Page

Photo of Gary LesserThe legal profession has changed so significantly in many ways over the last few decades, but some concepts are as enduring and important as ever. Among these key concepts is the invaluable and incalculable role a good mentor can play for a lawyer at the beginning of his or her career.

There are those of us practicing law for many years who can remember having a helpful mentor at the beginning of our career. Many years ago, most law students obtained employment after law school, and many of these mentorships occurred organically where they worked, at a private law firm, government agency, or elsewhere.

The legal market has changed considerably over the last couple of decades. Many law school graduates are not getting hired at law firms or elsewhere, and ultimately find themselves “throwing up their own shingle,” or sharing space with a former classmate who may have graduated a year or two before.  The primary consequence of this dynamic has been that many newer lawyers are quite literally “on their own,” not getting as involved in their legal profession or general community, and certainly not getting advice or guidance at the early stages of their professional career. Ironically, these new lawyers could most benefit from guidance on how to navigate the numerous legal, ethical, and business-related challenges that occur every day, especially when running your own law firm. But for the most part, those mentorship opportunities have not been available or accessible, and this crucial mentorship is not happening for many newer lawyers.

The good news is that The Florida Bar has created a Special Committee on Mentoring to tackle the situation, focusing on attorneys with three years or less experience, working in firms of three or fewer lawyers. Other state bars have mentoring programs, but the goal is for Florida to have one of the best programs in the nation, with a focus on professionalism and ethics, the path of a lawyer’s career, and getting involved in the legal and general community.

The Special Committee is co-chaired by former Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Presidents Zack Zuroweste and Katherine Hurst Miller, who have been lawyer leaders for many years. We appointed members of the Special Committee from across Florida, including members of the Young Lawyers Division, and established Florida Bar and voluntary bar leadership who have a strong background and experience in mentorship issues. They will be working on a mentorship program that will emphasize law and career advice, with regular mutual communication and achievable goals for those who participate in the mentoring program to be rolled out next year.

Make no mistake, this is going to be a huge lift, but worth the effort and very much needed. We owe it to these newer lawyers to be able to be their best selves, to be the best lawyers at this stage of their career. This investment will increase professionalism and will help these lawyers and the public we serve for years to come.

Actor and director Denzel Washington correctly noted that nobody gets here alone, in terms of accomplishments in this world. “Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life,” observed Washington. “I don’t care what you do for a living — if you do it well, I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.”

We have the opportunity to design one of the best, most impactful legal mentoring programs in the country, and that’s what we are going to do. My request is twofold. First, if you are a newer lawyer that falls into this category, look for further news and sign up for the program. Second, if you are a “more experienced attorney,” please sign up to be a mentor as we roll out this program in the future. You can really have a positive impact on the career of a newer lawyer. And if you know someone who is a new lawyer, on their own or at a smaller firm, encourage them to participate.

The program will be beneficial for mentors and mentees alike. Look for regular updates in the months ahead. We are going to design a program that’s going to be helpful for newer lawyers, and it will pay dividends for these lawyers and the legal profession for years to come.