New law graduates embarking on the practice of law in Utah won’t have to stumble around helplessly as they try to figure out the nuts and bolts of law practice. According to the Salt Lake City Tribune (H/T ABA Journal) Utah has just implemented a mandatory mentoring program that pairs all new attorneys (not just solos) with an experienced lawyer who can help them with basic practical issues such as how to seek a continuance or deal with a difficult client. Thus far, 350 mentors have been approved, but 150 more are needed to serve the 500 new lawyers who enter the bar each year.
To encourage busy, experienced lawyers to participate, the bar offers twelve hours of CLE credit. Mentors must have at least seven years of experience, no past or present disciplinary actions and must be approved by the Utah Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Professionalism.
Though mandatory mentoring programs sound like a great idea, as with most concepts, there are two sides. A year ago, I questioned here whether compulsory mentoring programs could succeed. For example, some lawyer/mentors may spend much of their mentoring time focused on “their” way of making filings, instead of suggesting other workable alternatives. And while lawyer-mentors can also help new lawyers avoid trouble – for example, by pointing out obvious conflicts of interest or encouraging a newbie to dump a problem client – they can also throw a wet-blanket on a new lawyer’s creative ideas. At the same time, for new lawyers/mentees, many simply do not ask for help even where mentors are available. Some new lawyers may inaccurately feel that they have nothing to learn from an old-fogey while others fear looking stupid. Either way, without an active mentee, a mentor program can’t succeed.
Even if your jurisdiction does not offer a formal mentoring program, you can create your own by reaching out to lawyers in your community or practice area (You could also check out Lawyer Connection, a free service which has a list of lawyers willing to serve as mentors). Most of us more experienced lawyers benefited from the help of those who came before, and we view mentoring not as a burden or a chore, but a way of paying it forward.