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TCL > August 2012 Issue > Reflections of a Mentee—Developing Professional Identity and Advancing Social Responsibility

August 2012       Vol. 41, No. 8       Page  6
In and Around the Bar
CBA President's Message to Members

Reflections of a Mentee—Developing Professional Identity and Advancing Social Responsibility
by Caitlin S. Quander

Caitlin S. Quander is an associate in the real estate department of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP. Her practice focuses on zoning, land use, and general transactional real estate—  

We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.

—Winston Churchill

For the last two years, I have had the opportunity to participate as a mentee in the DBA Mentoring Program. As CBA President Mark Fogg states in this month’s President’s Message, this year, the mentoring program is part of a special pilot project approved by the Chief Justice’s Commission on the Legal Profession and the CBA to determine whether a statewide, voluntary mentor program should be recommended. As a mentee who has greatly benefited from the DBA’s mentoring program, I am very much in favor of statewide expansion and I hope that the number of participants only continues to grow. I am convinced that the mentoring program is a winning proposition for those who participate as mentors and mentees and also a benefit to the legal profession at large.

Mentors—The Profession’s Best

During my first year in the program, I had the good fortune of being matched with Mark Fogg as my mentor. This year, my mentor is Troy Rackham, who recently was named the 2012 DBA Young Lawyer of the Year. Across the board, the caliber of bar association members participating as mentors is outstanding. Just as I have had tremendous luck in my pairings, I am certain other mentees feel equally honored and fortunate that such highly respected attorneys are devoting time and expertise to mentor them.

A Growth Process

As I reflect on my time in the mentoring program, I see that, as I have grown and developed as an attorney, my relationship with my mentor also has evolved. This is apparent in the questions I ask my mentor, in the guidance I need, and in the opportunities I seek.

First-Year Mentee—Setting Goals

My mentor-mentee relationship with Mark Fogg began during the end of my first year of practice and continued into my second year. Early on in the program we created a goals sheet called the "Action Plan." This involved creating both short- and long-term goals and then breaking them down into specific tasks that I would personally focus on and others that Mark would assist me with. One of the areas I wanted to improve involved how best to capitalize on the talents of my assistant and paralegal to forge a cohesive team (something that is not taught in law school). Mark set up a lunch for me to meet his assistant, his paralegal, and two of his associates. They explained to me how they coordinate work and we discussed effective communication.

Another goal under Mark’s mentorship was to improve my business development skills. I identified organizations in which I wanted to increase my involvement. Mark shared how he had built and continues to maintain his client relationships. He always was willing to arrange a lunch or coffee with someone in his personal network who he thought would be a good contact for me. At the conclusion of our year as mentor–mentee, I had the opportunity to present with Mark on professionalism during the 1L orientations at the University of Colorado Law School and University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Second-Year Mentee—Defining Work–Life Balance

During my second and third years of practice as an attorney, I have become more comfortable with the day-to-day aspects of practicing law. As I develop long-term goals and principles for my practice, the questions I ask my current mentor, Troy Rackham, have evolved and become more self-reflective. For example, work–life balance issues became more relevant when I got married and wanted to ensure that I spend quality time with my husband. I had dinner with his Troy and his wife so that I could hear from them about how they balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of their family (they have four children, all under age 12).

A long-term career goal for me was to determine whether I wanted to continue with civil defense litigation or change course and pursue my interest in land use and zoning law. Troy had gone through the process of changing firms himself, and provided much support as I considered what I wanted from my career. He served as a tremendous resource as I determined how to make a smooth transition to a new firm, while communicating to my previous firm how much I appreciated the opportunity to work there and valued the experience I had gained.

My second mentor–mentee relationship continues to develop. Currently, Troy and I are planning to take on a pro bono case together. I am excited with the prospect of serving the public, specifically those who cannot afford to access legal services, while also gaining practical experience.

Mentoring—Teaching by Example

The mentoring program strives to develop, maintain, and advance the values of professional identity and social responsibility for new attorneys. Developing a personal and professional relationship with an established attorney, discussing questions or struggles, and hearing how more experienced attorneys have negotiated similar problems is incredibly useful. I have learned by example from two mentors who demonstrate social responsibility in their daily practice.

Having someone to lend a willing ear and provide feedback on a decision I am contemplating broadens my education and allows me to acquire a new professional and personal context. This is an invaluable aspect of the mentoring program. The perspectives and advice offered by each mentor have been unique, and my conversations with each have been different, given each mentor’s personal frame of reference and their respective practice areas and professional experiences. In the end, I believe my knowledge has expanded because of the individual relationship that has developed with each mentor.

Throughout my experience in the mentoring program, I had the pleasure of witnessing first-hand the demonstration of respect that others in the profession have for Mark Fogg and Troy Rackham. Mark and Troy both set the bar for what I hope to achieve during my career. Each of them has tremendous integrity and understanding of the immense responsibilities and opportunities we have as attorneys, and this awareness spreads to those who have the pleasure and privilege of interacting with them.

We use the term "practicing law" for a reason. Being an attorney is never something you accomplish; rather, by focusing on the core values and ideals of the legal profession and putting in a lot of time and hard work, we continue to practice and improve. Participating in the mentoring program has brought this idea home by affording me the opportunity to observe two accomplished attorneys who continue to challenge themselves in their daily practices and in their professional lives.

I hope this article encourages others to participate in the CBA mentoring program or, alternatively, just to seek out more casual mentoring relationships in their own firm or office. Throughout my life, I have had formal mentoring relationships, as well as relationships where, after reflection several years later, I realize that a certain person actually served as a mentor. Where this is the case, I always try to share with this person my sincere gratitude for their time and mentorship.

Without the guidance from Mark and Troy and the direction of other mentors along the way, I would not be the lawyer I am today—or the one I hope to be in the future. In 2011, I mentored a 1L in the University of Denver Sturm College of Law mentoring program, and I plan to participate in the program again this coming year. As I look ahead in my practice, I know I will continue to seek out mentors both inside and outside my firm, and I plan to mentor others, as well, sharing what I have learned.

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