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TCL > August 2012 Issue > The Colorado Mentor Program—How It Works

The Colorado Lawyer
August 2012
Vol. 41, No. 8 [Page  5]

© 2012 The Colorado Lawyer and Colorado Bar Association. All Rights Reserved.

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In and Around the Bar
CBA President's Message to Members

The Colorado Mentor Program—How It Works
by Mark A. Fogg

 

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about mentor programs over the last few years. At many of our CBA Board of Governors (BOG) meetings, we have "round-tabled" additional ways in which we can assist our members, and developing a statewide mentor program always appears near the top of the list of suggestions.

In 2008, we started the Denver Bar Association (DBA) Mentoring Program in the metropolitan area. This came about thanks to the efforts of the DBA staff and the donation of time by many volunteer lawyers. The DBA program continues to flourish: more than eighty mentor–mentee relationships have been established in 2012.

At the first meeting of the Chief Justice’s Commission on the Legal Profession (Commission) in February 2011, the need for additional mentor programs at the state level dominated the discussion. Shortly after that meeting, the Chief Justice asked me to chair the Commission’s "Working Group B," which is devoted to assisting new lawyers with their transition into the practice of law. "Shouldn’t take much time at all," the Chief said. I knew better, but because of the respect I have for his passion to improve the profession and my responsibilities to the bar association, I agreed to help tackle the work of putting together a viable statewide mentor program.

Developing a CBA Mentor Program

Our Immediate Past CBA President, David Masters, spoke to me several times about the importance of developing a statewide mentor program, and his leadership was instrumental in moving the project forward. CBA Executive Director Chuck Turner and I had ongoing discussions about the need to inform our members that we would take our best shot at putting together a high-quality, sustainable program. Fortunately, our working group was a diverse, dedicated collection of attorneys and judges who rolled up their sleeves during the summer and fall of 2011. Our work included:

  • contacting each state that has a mentor program and discussing in detail what worked and what did not work
  • contacting all of the known mentor programs in Colorado
  • surveying a number of law firms—large and small—about the existence of, and scope of, mentor programs
  • interviewing numerous potential participants
  • analyzing data and feedback from the DBA Mentoring Program.

Many hands made lighter work, but I would be remiss not to single out the dedicated efforts of Melissa Nicoletti, CBA Director of Sections and Committees; Margrit Parker, attorney, drafter, and researcher from Kennedy Childs; and Sarah Clark, counsel to the Chief Justice.

Logistics of the CBA Mentor Program

In devising our program, we culled from other programs what we liked best and compiled a list of desired attributes:

> It is voluntary. There is something inconsistent about the concept of a mandatory mentoring program. A mentor is by definition a generous giver.

> It is decentralized, allowing groups across the stateincluding, for example, law firms, bar associations, Inns of Court, government offices, and law alumni programsto formulate their own mentor programs within the general structure of a template that emphasizes the Colorado bar and local legal community; the history and importance of the legal profession; professionalism, litigation, and transaction experiences; law office management; and working with clients and public service within a personal mentor plan developed by the mentor and mentee.

> It is simple. An eligible mentee is a new lawyer within three years of being admitted or within two years of being a clerk. An attorney who has practiced for five years and is in good standing and certified by the Colorado Supreme Court for five years is eligible to be a mentor.

> It is designed to be a one-year program, requiring fifteen to twenty hours of the mentee and mentors time, and offering each fifteen CLE credits.

A pilot program that now includes several local bar associations, a government office, an Inn of Court, and both Colorado law school alumni programs, began in early 2012. We are actively seeking more groups to participate in this excellent program. You can learn more about this at www.cobar.org/mentoring.

Positive Influences at the Start of
a Career Have Long-Lasting Effects

When I started my career in the Denver District Attorney’s Office, I was fortunate to be surrounded by mentors on a daily basis. I was among esteemed members of the profession who could offer me—and were offering me—valuable career guidance. I accepted the guidance and thoroughly appreciated my good fortune. The benefits were apparent.

Perhaps in my naïveté I did not question whether this was the norm for the profession. It certainly made sense to me then that all attorneys would experience mentor–mentee relationships like mine when they were starting out in practice. I think many lawyers would agree that the most effective mentoring is where there is the ability for a mentee to have consistent access to mentors. Transitioning to the practice of law from law school or from a public service job to civil practice can be like trying to keep up with a runaway freight train. Although more senior attorneys take for granted such things as law office management, billing, and establishing effective client communications, new lawyers often are at a loss as to how to go about developing those skills. Case-specific advice on how to approach a deposition, handle a criminal trial, or determine whether certain documents should be disclosed in discovery is invaluable. Unfortunately, daily mentoring in the workplace is not available to a lot of new lawyers. We just don’t have it front-and-center on our lobe tip as we should.

I admit to having doubts about the viability of mentor programs in the legal profession, and I realize that attorneys may have reservations about participating in such a program. These programs cannot substitute for the daily mentoring that many of us were lucky to receive. However, after much reflection, I am convinced a mentor program is vital to our Colorado legal community. The reality is that some of our new lawyers who are solo practitioners by choice or because they are unable to obtain employment in a firm or other office have little guidance. Our law firm surveys have revealed that many firms do not have any mentor programs or that the existing programs are believed to be ineffective. Several law firms see the value in having the newer lawyers get the perspective of an experienced attorney from outside the firm and have encouraged their associates to participate in mentor programs.

We more experienced lawyers often forget the tremendous impact our guidance can have on a new lawyer. This is not simply bombast or conceit speaking; the reality is that we are in a position to serve as teachers, guides, and role models for our less experienced colleagues in the profession. To develop the legal abilities that are best suited to them, it is important that new lawyers be exposed to different types of practice styles. Mentor programs give new lawyers the opportunity to interact with several different attorneys—within or outside their offices—early in their careers and sometimes throughout their lives.

Most important, new lawyers believe there is great value in the mentor programs. A few weeks ago, Caitlin Quander, a DBA mentee of mine, contacted me about writing on the impact that participation in the DBA program has had on her. (Caitlin is a talented new lawyer with whom I have maintained a professional relationship after our mentor–mentee year expired. In fact, I recently appointed her to the CBA Legislative Policy Committee.) Her article immediately follows mine. Caitlin’s perspective is one I believe is shared by many in the program. Interestingly, Caitlin comments in her article that, as her career evolves as an attorney, it has been helpful for her to continue in the program by developing a relationship with another mentor in the profession. Currently, she is in a mentee–mentor relationship with Troy Rackham.

Troy is a "poster person" for community service and bar activity. He is the 2012 DBA Young Lawyer of the Year and is in the unique position of having been both a mentee and a mentor. In the article following Caitlin’s, Troy shares his perspective on the DBA Mentoring Program, which is part of the Colorado pilot, and provides his thoughts about expanding the program statewide.

As I enter what is probably the last third of my career, the phrase "it’s all about relationships" is becoming more and more important to me. In Maimonides’ ladder of giving, the highest form of giving is to assist one in need by providing a gift that helps put the recipient in a position where he or she can dispense with the substantial need for other aid.1 Thanks to all of you who assist our new lawyers and pass on the values of our profession.

Note

1. "Moses ben Maimon [known to English speaking audiences as Maimonides and Hebrew speaking as Rambam] (1138–1204) is the greatest Jewish philosopher of the medieval period." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, available at plato.stanford.edu/entries/Maimonides. Maimonides’ Ladder of Tzedakah (Eight Degrees of Charity) is as follows:

First Degree: Help a person Help Himself or Herself
Second Degree: The Giver and Receiver Unknown to Each Other
Third Degree: Receiver Known, Giver Unknown
Fourth Degree: Giver Does Not Know Receiver
Fifth Degree: Gives Before He or She is Asked
Sixth Degree: Gives After He or She is Asked
Seventh Degree: Gives Less Than He or She Should, But Cheerfully
Eighth Degree: Gives Unwillingly.

See www.bookonlife.com/pdfs/jewish_charity.pdf.


Meet the President of the Colorado Bar Association

CBA President Mark Fogg is traveling the state
to visit local bar associations.
His upcoming visits are listed below.*

Bar Association Date Time Location
Southern Colorado August 15 Lunch Trinidad
San Luis Valley August 15 Dinner Alamosa
Southwestern Colorado August 16 Lunch Durango
Four Corners August 16 Dinner Cortez
Mesa County August 29 Lunch Grand Junction
Seventh Judicial District August 30 Lunch Montrose
Delta County August 30 Dinner Delta
Heart of the Rockies September 6 Lunch Salida
Freemont–Custer Counties September 6 Dinner Cañon City
Douglas–Elbert Counties September 12 Dinner Castle Rock

*Available at press time. For more information about these upcoming visits,
contact Jill Lafrenz at jlafrenz@cobar.org or (303) 824-5333.

© 2012 The Colorado Lawyer and Colorado Bar Association. All Rights Reserved. Material from The Colorado Lawyer provided via this World Wide Web server is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and may not be reproduced in any way or medium without permission. This material also is subject to the disclaimers at http://www.cobar.org/tcl/disclaimer.cfm?year=2012.


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