She Made It All Worthwhile
by Mark Fogg
It was 3:15 p.m. The school day was done. I had just escorted my fourth grade class out the front door of Greenlee Elementary School, which faces Lipan Street and Eleventh Avenue. This was my first day as a Guest Teacher under the Denver Bar Association/Denver Public Schools teaching program. I walked back to the classroom and rested my tired body for a moment in one of those child-sized chairs, trying to assess whether the day was a success.
I had taught literacy — reading and writing — to a fifth grade class in the morning, and the same subject to a fourth grade class in the afternoon. The subject matter was easy to teach, and I had set aside some time during each session for the kids to ask me whatever they wanted to about being a lawyer and the law.
The morning session was easier than the afternoon one. I had two professional teacher’s aides who helped me during the reading and writing personal study times. Also, a couple of teachers periodically came into my classroom. When they thought there was some unsanctioned talking going on, they showed me some pretty effective control techniques, while giving me the added bonus of some vivid flashbacks to my grade school years. I didn’t think the talking was out of hand. The kids were well-behaved and knew the subject matter. I decided to shy away from such techniques.
During the afternoon session, I was mostly alone. Feeling like a veteran from the morning, this didn’t concern me. I should have had my guard up a little bit when the teacher on the playground asked me who I had that afternoon and said, "Uh-oh," after I responded. The first half hour was challenging, as the kids tried to test me and take slight advantage of me. Once I used the teachers’ control techniques, though, it worked out great, and we had a fun afternoon.
A very rewarding time of the day was when I sat in the rocking chair in a corner of the room, with the kids around me on the floor, and they asked questions about being a lawyer and about the law. Before school, I was concerned that there would not be many questions, but each session turned out to be about an hour of non-stop inquiries. We could have gone longer. For other volunteer Guest Teachers who have yet to teach, be sure to prepare strategic responses to the inevitable questions, "How much do you make?" and "What was your yuckiest case?" At the end of each session, I asked how many wanted to be lawyers, and at least six raised their hands, three girls and three boys.
But my most rewarding time was yet to come. As I sat there at 3:15 pondering the day, one of my fourth-grade girls had returned and stood in the doorway. "Mr. Fogg, can I ask you some questions?" I recognized her as one of the quiet, but fiercely intelligent kids from the afternoon class. "Sure," I replied. She said, "I really want to be a lawyer, can we talk about it?"
We spent the next 15 minutes discussing how to get into college and law school, what tests you have to take, what you do in law school, the Bar exam and the practice of law. "Do you really like being a lawyer?" she asked. "I really do," I said. Little did she know that she and her questions had deeply reconfirmed that inside me. She made the whole day worthwhile.
About 20 to 25 lawyers taught on March 31, our first official day of the Guest Teacher Program. There was a major conference for teachers that day, and we were a big help to the school district. There are some other conferences coming up before this school year ends, and more lawyers will teach. If you have signed up for the program, another big "Thank you." If you have not signed up, please consider doing so. It is very rewarding.You can join us by calling DPS legal assistant, Tiffany Lambalot, at (720) 423-3398.
Equally rewarding will be our mentor program. Many of the columns I have written this year have focused on great mentors and mentees. This relationship is a great gift in our profession. Unfortunately, a lot of new lawyers are not in a situation where they can experience an effective mentor relationship on the practical aspects of the practice of law.
The Denver Bar Association surveyed new lawyers to gauge interest in a mentor program and whether they would participate. The responses were very positive. Therefore, under the leadership of DBA Trustee Nancy Cohen and incoming DBA President John Baker, we have set up a program targeted to those lawyers who have been practicing five years or less. The mentee applicants fill out a questionnaire as to their needs and expectations in a mentor relationship. We will then match these requests to our more experienced mentors for one year.
The legal profession has a significant learning curve. This program will help. The goal is to foster professionalism and assist with everyday problems not taught in law school. Your mentor can assist in the decision-making process about managing a practice, important factors to consider in accepting a client, client communications, handling difficult clients or opposing counsel and work-life balance issues. Of course, the purpose of the program is not for help on case specific-issues or to assist in job placement.
We will have a kick-off breakfast at the bar association offices at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 2. We are extremely lucky to have a professional who is very involved with mentoring programs nationwide to help us with the program. Caren Stacey of Arnold and Porter is volunteering her time to make this an effective program.
So, take advantage of this. Please consider this mentor program and call right away. For those lawyers interested in being a mentee or a mentor, please contact Melissa Nicoletti of the bar association at (303) 824-5321.