Young Lawyers Division Newsletter
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Young Lawyers Division

April 2016, vol. 60, no. 5

Mentoring in Law: Necessity & Opportunity

Without Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy may never have left Baton Rouge, let alone risen to prominence in Chicago, securing the city’s place as the enduring home of modern blues. Referring to the late great Dean Smith, Michael Jordan has said, “Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith,” describing Smith as a “mentor,” “teacher” and “second father” whom, “in teaching me the game of basketball, […] taught me about life.” The power of these relationships is recognized as so great that whether and to what degree President Obama was mentored by certain persons along his path to the White House has been fodder (unfairly, in this author’s humble opinion) for attacks by the President’s political adversaries.

Countless articles extol the virtues and reciprocal benefits of mentoring. It’s such a broad subject reaching virtually every aspect of personal experience that exploring it in the abstract is impractical. Focusing even on the relatively discreet issue of mentoring in the legal profession may still leave many nuances that present challenges to detailed discussion. Nonetheless, it’s clear that, at its core, mentoring is about perspective and growth – in more basic terms, knowledge and improvement. When it comes to professional development, this generally means teaching and learning what to do, how to do it and, perhaps most importantly, why.

This is particularly significant in terms of addressing what appears to be a growing concern among legal employers – namely, that new lawyers are not “practice ready.” More often than not, it’s the case that new lawyers do in fact possess the skill set needed to hit the ground running, but simply lack the confidence and sense of direction that come largely through experience. An easy fix, some employers regrettably misperceive this as requiring substantial expense of time and resources. Fortunately, the organized bar is replete with resources and opportunities for both new and seasoned lawyers to communicate and share experience and lessons learned for the benefit of the profession at large. Some examples include the following:

Illinois Statewide Lawyer-to-Lawyer Mentoring Program

Year-long mentoring program administered by “2Civility,” the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism’s communication channel, with support from the Illinois State Bar Association and Chicago Bar Association, which pairs experienced lawyers with new bar admittees to provide guidance during first years of practice; Participants receive 6 MCLE credits, including 6 PMCLE credits, upon successful program completion. Details available at www.2civility.org/programs/mentoring/.

Illinois State Bar Association Discussion Groups

Variety of discussion groups where ISBA members can ask questions and get answers; Includes Mentor-Mentee Discussion Group, General Discussion Groups and Section Discussion Groups dedicated to specific areas of substantive law; Details available at www.isba.org/discussions.

Chicago Bar Association Group Mentoring Program

Groups new lawyers (5 years or fewer in practice) with more seasoned lawyers (8 years or more) to foster exchange of ideas, promote professional networking and tackle career challenges during a year-long program; Details available at www.chicagobar.org/eDownloads/Group_Mentoring_Guide.pdf.

I’ve been fortunate in my career not only to have had a series of great mentors, but also to have had opportunities to serve as a mentor in formal and less formal settings. In 2012, I participated in the pilot program for the Cook County Juvenile Justice Mentoring Initiative, a restorative justice effort which paired lawyers with non-violent probationary male youths in order to encourage personal and social development and reduce recidivism. The program was successful and, like some other mentors from the pilot program, I’ve continued to stay in contact with my mentee, whom I’m happy to report has avoided further legal problems and developed career aspirations. Now in its fourth year, the program has continued to operate in conjunction with the Circuit Court of Cook County, Juvenile Justice Division. For those interested, details for an upcoming informational meeting will be disseminated through various bar associations in the near future.

Last fall, I was honored to join the part-time faculty at my alma mater, Loyola University Chicago School of Law, as an adjunct professor of Advocacy, a core curriculum course focused on development of persuasive written and oral communication skills. The experience was valuable, not only from a practice skills perspective, but also in terms of providing opportunities to share experiences, exchange knowledge and build long-lasting relationships. My former students, of course, will soon be and, to a degree already are, my colleagues. I look forward to returning this August for my second year, improving as a teacher and watching my students’ careers develop.

The importance of mentoring in legal education and the profession was among the topics on the agenda for a recent meeting of Loyola’s Dean’s Diversity Council, a group of administrators, professors, alumni, current students and student organization representatives formed to think creatively and implement plans to foster diversity within the law school and legal community. Similar to some other law schools, Loyola offers a number of formal mentoring programs aimed at bridging the gap and opening the lines of communication between students and alumni, including but not limited to the following:

1L-Alumni Mentoring Program

Pairs first year law students with alumni for a year-long program aimed at expanding academic experience beyond the classroom with a focus on practical insights ranging from guidance with course selection to job searches and professional development; Details at www.lawalumni.luc.edu/s/1548/law/index.aspx?sid=1548&gid=3&pgid=629.

Circle of Advocates Mentor Program

Program for students who wish to pursue careers in advocacy that provides the opportunity to build relationships and receive guidance from some of the top litigators and judges in the Chicago legal community; Details at www.luc.edu/law/centers/advocacy/mentors.html.

Student Organizations

Variety of law-school and community based mentoring programs accessible through student organizations including but not limited to the Asian-American Law Student Association, Black Law Student Association, Latino Law Student Association, Muslim Law Student Association, Loyola Pipeline Project, OUTLaw and the Women’s Law Society; Details at http://www.luc.edu/law/career/diversity.html.

Ultimately, mentoring in some form or another, whether formal or informal, face-to-face or virtual, brief or longer-term, professional or community-based, or otherwise, is inseparable from the practice of law and is certain to occur. In that regard, all members of the bar are well served to be conscious of and deliberate in the manner that we participate in the experience. Renewed interest and recent initiatives of the Illinois Supreme Court, bar associations and law schools confirm that mentoring is not simply extra-curricular or peripheral to the practice, but essential to developing complete lawyers and advancing the professionalism of the organized bar. With a clearly articulated need, demonstrated benefits and a multitude of opportunities, those at every stage of their legal career should be encouraged to get involved.

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Michael Alkaraki is a trial lawyer at Leahy & Hoste, LLC, where he represents plaintiffs in matters of serious personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death and an adjunct professor of Advocacy at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. He serves the ISBA as a member of the Assembly and Young Lawyers Division Council.