I grew up in Chicago neighborhoods, see, and maybe it was because it was the late 40s and early 50s and our parents were too busy working and supporting us that we had to turn to “the older guys” in the neighborhood to serve as role models and advisors—mentors. I went to grammar school at Our Lady of Lourdes on Chicago’s north side and it was always “the older guys” that then preceded us to the Chicago Catholic high schools that continued to mentor, to lead the way. A question dealing with life, schooling, girls, sports, studies, or whatever, it seems, we always went to and got help from “the older guys.” With an eye towards gender sensitivity, please, I am not looking to offend the female members of the Senior Lawyers Section Council or the Bar. Certainly, there were women in my life as well, especially my mom, older cousins, BVM nuns that we turned to, but for the most part, it was always “the older guys” I looked to.
Without too much effort on our parts, we are now “the older guys” (and women) in our profession, the senior lawyers. The catchphrase for what we senior lawyers do today is “pay it forward.” I don’t remember ever identifying it in that way, or ever feeling obligated to assist the younger lawyers I came across. But, as pay back to the folks that I looked to for guidance, “the older guys,” to show them that I learned from them and am doing what they did, I am paying it forward. We are paying it forward.
We make ourselves available as advisors, whether it is concerning issues of substantive law, ethics, mainstreaming into the profession, law office economics, life’s decisions, or involvement in the various bar associations. Were it not for my “advisors,” I would not have attended law school, and certainly not achieved the modest successes I have over the years in the profession.
There must be something in the synapses of the brains of lawyers, especially senior counselors, that makes us not only receptive to helping other lawyers, especially the younger ones, but anxious to do so—to accept our obligation as our pleasure, to “pay it forward.” Maybe we are lawyers in part because we want to help people and this “paying it forward” is in our DNA.
For as long as I can remember, my law school, the John Marshall Law School, had a formal mentoring program through its very active alumni association. The ISBA, in 2003, recognized that a more formal mentoring program was a good idea for its 34,000-plus lawyer members. Historically, mentoring programs were provincial, local bar associations, law schools, ethnic lawyer groups and the like.
The ISBA isn’t the only statewide lawyer group to create a structured up-to-the-minute technologically advanced mentoring program. Delaware’s (2,500 members) “Professional Guidance Committee” provides peer counseling and supports lawyers overburdened by personal or practice-related problems; Florida’s (unified state bar, 50,000 members) Younger Lawyers Division program, called “Scope”, provides experienced attorneys in various substantive areas for consultation by those unfamiliar with a particular practice area; Maryland (20,000 members) has used a web-based program designed to provide new practitioners a contact source by listing all volunteer attorneys by practice area; Minnesota’s (22,000 members) “Colleague” program provides lawyer-to-lawyer advice to attorneys of all ages and years of practice, geared primarily toward new lawyers; and Missouri (20,000 members), whose program is geared toward lawyers in rural areas where many new attorneys have solo or small firm practices. The program creates one-on-one matches for help on an ad hoc basis with the potential of creating career mentor/mentee relationships.
Think about it. How many calls do each of us get in a day, a week, a month, from a colleague, a younger lawyer, protégé, or former associate, asking a question on a matter of procedure, information on a judge, law office economics, filing jury demands, seeking recommendations, and the like?
The Illinois Supreme Court recognized the importance of mentoring, of paying it forward, when it provided for Mandatory Continuing Legal Education credit for qualifying programs. The Justinian Society, the largest ethnic (Italian-American) bar association in the state (probably in the country) has a for-CLE-credit mentoring program—check the Web site (http://www.justinians.org).
The ISBA has adopted a lawyer-to-lawyer formal mentoring program—a one-year mentoring program pairing select ISBA lawyers with new admittees to provide the new admittees guidance (“paying it forward”) during their first year of practice. The lawyer mentors get 6 hours of CLE credit and the new attorneys can select this ISBA mentoring program as one option to comply with their MCLE requirements—providing 15 hours of accredited CLE. (Check out the ISBA mentoring Web site, http://www.isba.org/mentoring).
How important have those relationships become in our lives, in the lives of the younger people or colleagues we have met and helped in some way? We know that the mentees have become, professionally and emotionally, extensions of us to some degree. And, no doubt, these beneficiaries of our mentoring will “pay it forward.”
Because of the mentoring relationship, our guards go down and a certain bond of mutual respect, good will and trust is established. Nothing in my career has brought me greater satisfaction.