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Mentoring Makes a Difference program underscores the value of mentoring

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'The process is about empathy and it’s not about you and your need to tell. It’s about the protégé. Be a guide from the side, not a sage from the stage'

Mentoring Makes a Difference

Mentoring can be a formal or informal process, last a brief time for a specific issue or be a lifetime relationship, lawyers may well be both a mentor and mentee at the same time, and it’s fine, perhaps even preferable, to have several mentors.

It may be one of the most important roles for lawyers, a way to pay forward the lessons and values of the profession. All those factors, and more, were covered at the April 23 CLE seminar, Mentoring Makes a Difference, sponsored by the Bar’s Standing Committee on Professionalism and the Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism.

U.S. Northern District Judge Mark Walker said mentoring was an ongoing endeavor for Senior U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Emmett Ripley Cox, who died in March.

“While Judge Cox was a brilliant judge and left his mark on the 11th Circuit, I believe his most lasting legacy is the impact he had on the lives of his law clerks and their families,” Walker said, relating he received message after message from Cox’s former clerks after his death attesting to his influence. “Judge Cox proved mentoring definitely makes a difference.”

One of those messages about Cox was simple: “I’m a better person having known him and having had the opportunity to have clerked for him.”

The seminar speakers discussed ways both formal and informal that lawyers and law students can become or seek mentors, how the relationships can be cultivated, and benefits that flow both ways.

Walker brought in four of his current or former clerks to talk about their experiences on both sides of the mentoring relationship, and noted, “You don’t have to be part of a formal mentoring program. Sometimes the most important mentors in our lives grow organically out of a pre-existing relationship, such as a professor.

“Each of you must have had multiple mentors in your life to get where you’ve gotten. Mentoring definitely makes a difference.”

Following Walker’s introductory session, the remainder of the CLE focused on practical advice and relating experiences.

Blan Teagle, executive director of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, discussed setting up and running formal mentoring programs.

Those projects, he said, should define the roles of its participating mentors as well as offer education and resources. They should also not be over regimented and allow room for spontaneity, and help mentors realize the importance of listening.

“The process is about empathy and it’s not about you and your need to tell. It’s about the protégé,” Teagle said. “Be a guide from the side, not a sage from the stage.”

Brielle Bell, an associate at Bush Ross, described the mentoring relationship as a three-part process that requires trust, compatibility, and effort.

The second part, she said, is like any personal or professional relationship and means that some mentoring efforts may not work out.

“In those first conversations…that small talk can make a big impact,” Bell said. “You want to determine can this person help you with whatever you want to learn….

“Also, as mentors, if you are taking on the initiative to mentor someone, you should be asking yourself these same questions, whether you have the bandwidth and capacity to really making a meaningful impact in your mentee’s life.”

One thing she tells her mentees is they can have as many mentors as they like, but they will also generally drive the relationship, determining how often they reach out to a mentor.

“You should have a…mentor that you can reach out to for all facets of your career,” Bell said.

Bell said new lawyers can be mentors advising law school aspirants with their applications or preparing for the LSAT and talk with law students about internships or the transition from law school to the practice of law.

Melanie Griffin, of counsel at Schumaker and founder of Spread Your Sunshine, an organization that uses mentoring and other tools to help people believe in themselves and reach their goals, said there are different types of mentoring relationships, which can take different amounts of time and effort.

“We talk a lot about the traditional mentor, which is someone who oversees your career and your journey, or at least a particular aspect of it for a longer period of time,” Griffin said. “Beyond that, you may have someone who serves as a coach for you or as a sponsor.

“This coach is the one that will work with you on a very specific skill set. Maybe you want to beef up your cross examination skills, or your oral advocacy skills, your opening and closing statements.”

The third type, she said, is “a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who is taking care of you when you are not in the room.”

That can include someone who advocates for the mentee for an internship or other job opening, or advancement in a law firm.

Griffin and the other speakers talked about the importance of mentors and mentees openly discussing the goals of the relationship, whether it will be in person, on the phone, or online, and even who will reach out to set up the ensuing meetings.

Aside from the personal and professional benefits of mentoring, Griffin said there’s a business case to be made. Studies have shown that mentored managers are 88% more productive, unmentored employees are more likely to seek other work, and 95% of those mentored said it “motivates them to do their very best.”

Griffin recommended participants check out two online mentoring articles, here and here.

A recording of the CLE will be available on the Latimer Center’s resources page on the Bar’s website.

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