Mentoring benefits the mentors and the mentees
An important thing for law students and young lawyers seeking mentors to know: It is an advisory relationship, not a job opportunity.
Board of Governors member Jay Kim offered that advice at the Leaders Helping Leaders: Boosting the Confidence and Success of Young Lawyers in the COVID Era and Beyond, an online CLE held November 16 and sponsored by the Voluntary Bar Liaison Committee and the Young Lawyers Division.
The event featured a review of Bar resources to help lawyers with their personal and professional challenges, heightened by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as participants offering their tips and observations.
Such as Kim’s.
“A problem that many of the mentors have is that the mentees invariably use the opportunity to seek jobs,” he said. “I think it’s a very, very shortsighted strategy because you’re driving a wedge between you and your mentor by even visiting that subject….
“Now you’re on the defensive. What do you do with that? Now it’s gone from a mentee-mentor relationship to a potential employer dealing with an interview situation. It kind of ruins that relationship. We should have a cultural shift in not even talking about that.”
Board of Governors member Scott Westheimer said lawyers seeking advice should know they can have several mentors — and mentors can also advise more than one mentee.
“I’ve had mentors for my practice area, I’ve had mentors to help out with what I’m doing with The Florida Bar,” he said. “You may not find one lawyer who’s going to cover everything for the young lawyers out there, but having multiple mentors is just as good. You get different aspects and I think having multiple mentors as you work your way through your career is very helpful.”
The Town Hall style event, moderated by Voluntary Bar Liaison Committee Chair Vivian Cortes Hodz, featured presentations of resources available at the Bar interspersed with discussions on helping young lawyers get established in challenging times.
Westheimer, who along with Hodz and YLD President Adam White were presenters at the CLE, said Bar President Dori Foster-Morales’ recent circuit Town Hall meetings showed 74% of the participants had higher stress because of the pandemic. They cited factors such as home life/work balance problems, practice stability, isolation, and technology issues.
That, he said, shows the need for mentoring and other efforts to reach lawyers.
Westheimer, White, and Hodz went over programs the Bar offers to help, including some perhaps not considered as traditional mentoring:
• Lawyers Advising Lawyers allows lawyers with a specific problem, Westheimer said, to submit it online and a lawyer in that practice or legal area will answer it. There are 780 active lawyer advisors in the program, covering 107 law and practice areas including professionalism and ethics, he said, and since June 2019 640 attorneys have had 2,523 queries answered. Lawyers who go online and pose a question are automatically linked to an attorney in that subject area. “It’s a really good one-issue mentoring program,” Westheimer said.
• Legal Accelerator, like Lawyers Advising Lawyers, is operated by the Young Lawyers Division and collects information in one place needed by new lawyers. It also features more than 1,000 videos from lawyers and judges addressing specific substantive legal questions, ethics and professionalism matters, professional development, and health and wellness. “You can go on the website and search on the search bar for the specific topic you’re looking for,” White said, adding that’s an important service when lawyers working at home can’t walk into another office to get advice. Access for Bar members is by logging on to the Bar’s website and then on the left are YLD-related links, including for the Legal Accelerator.
• The Affiliate Outreach Conference is a long-time YLD program that will be virtual this year on February 5-6. It brings affiliate members together to share ideas and mentor each other, White said, and share initiatives for which the YLD awards grant funding. This year’s virtual event will include specific talks on dealing with pandemic issues as well as recurring issues seen in the yearly affiliate conferences, White said.
• The Voluntary Bar Liaison Committee, unable to have its annual in-person conference this year, has set up a coaching/mentorship program aimed at helping leadership in local bars. “The concept is we will be having our voluntary bar committee members…be a coach to provide support and mentoring,” Hodz said. “We will be hosting events and coaching throughout the entire year.” Subjects covered include budgeting, staffing, community outreach, having networking events, pro bono programs, governance issues, and anything else addressed by local bars.
• The Supervised Practice Program, run by the YLD, helps this year’s law school graduates who were twice delayed in taking the Florida bar exam by allowing them to practice under the supervision of a Bar member.
• The YLD’s Find an Affiliate program helps young and new lawyers find a local bar young lawyers program near them.
• The new Florida Lawyers Helpline [833-FL1-WELL] is a 24/7 free and confidential phone line that connects Bar members with counselors. Bar members also can get up to three free sessions with a mental-health counselor. “This is a free and confidential way for people to talk about their problems, especially when we see what the Town Halls showed with health and wellness and quality of life right now with the stress that’s brought on by the pandemic,” Westheimer said.
• The Bar’s Ethics Hotline [800-235-8619]. While not traditionally thought of as a mentoring resource, Westheimer said it’s a confidential tool that helps new and experienced lawyers when they have ethical questions. “This is a great asset that The Florida Bar has,” he said.
Hodz reflected that while the CLE program was focused on mentoring, it was perhaps more accurate to say it was looking to help lawyers in their various needs, including on ethical and health and wellness matters.
She said the liaison committee has a Facebook page for local bars to post pictures and information about their activities
Attendees talked about how they are working to attract members during the pandemic, including online social events, door prizes, special outreach programs, and more.
Several also said law students, new lawyers, and experienced lawyers have been more willing to participate on both roles for mentoring programs.
Braulio Rosa, executive director of the Broward County Bar Association, said it’s important to set expectations for those programs, especially for the mentees. He first raised the issue addressed by Kim about mentees seeing the program as a job search, to their ultimate detriment.
“What they don’t understand is the loss, the big loss. You’ve got these top lawyers who want to mentor you and if you just hang in there and build a relationship with them, they’re going to be so invaluable over time,” he said. “The trick is how to set expectations for these people, and explain to them about the long game. And it’s all about the long game.”
The webinar will soon be posted on part of the committee’s Bar webpage.