Connecting Through Lawyer Mentoring

MentorNothing speaks more strongly to the success of a program than the positive feedback of those who have participated in it. The Lawyer-to-Lawyer Mentoring Program created by the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism has just completed its third full year of operation. Offered through 75 different sponsoring organizations across the state, including law firms, law schools, bar associations and government agencies, the program has been a big hit. In fact, we are proud to say that nearly 3,500 attorneys have either completed the program, or are currently participating.

One mentoring pair that recently completed the year-long program through the Black Women Lawyers Association offered to share some thoughts on their experience.

Eileen Letts, who served as the mentor, is co-founder and co-managing partner of the Greene & Letts law firm in Chicago. A graduate of The Ohio State University and IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, Letts has represented an impressive roster of clients, including Shell, Travelers, State Farm, Liberty Mutual and General Casualty Insurance Companies, City of Chicago and Daimler Chrysler Financial. She has won numerous awards for her work with bar associations, legal aid foundations and served as a leader of many of the most important legal organizations and task forces in the state.

Maria Barlow, the mentee, is principal of Law Offices of Maria M. Barlow in Chicago, and specializes in criminal and family law. Prior to starting the firm, she worked for the City of Chicago. Barlow is a graduate of Northeastern Illinois University and The John Marshall Law School.

2Civility: Describe briefly your work setting  and practice area/areas of interest.

Eileen Letts: I work in a small firm setting of 8-10 lawyers plus support staff. My primary area of interest is personal injury litigation.

Maria Barlow: I am a solo practitioner with a concentration in criminal and family law.  I office-share with two other attorneys who are also solo practitioners.

2Civility: How did you decide to participate in the Black Women Lawyers Association’s mentoring program?

Letts: I was asked to do so by one of the officers, and thought it would be a good opportunity to give back.

Barlow: I am always looking for an opportunity to network and meet other attorneys, especially female attorneys, as I believe that our experiences can vary greatly from those of our male counterparts. I was also interested in obtaining CLE credit hours. [Note: Mentor- and mentee-participants who complete a Commission-approved mentoring program are eligible to receive six professional responsibility CLE credits.]

2Civility: What did you enjoy most about the program?

Letts: I think that Maria and I “clicked” right away. We had a great exchange of ideas about the practice of law as well as about personal matters.

Barlow: I really enjoyed getting to know a more experienced attorney as a person, as well as being able to learn about other areas of law. The relationship that developed between Eileen and me was a bond that I think will last for many years. We made a connection that allowed me to ask hard and at times personal questions and get good answers. I don’t believe this type of mentor/mentee relationship is always formed in traditional mentor/mentee programs.

2Civility: Is there anything about the program you would change, or do differently next time?

Letts: I might suggest some additional areas that could be covered in the program, maybe client development, volunteer work discussions.

Barlow: Overall the program was great. I would have liked a midyear meeting with all mentor/mentee pairs, which could have helped facilitate a discussion about how the mentor pairs were doing.  It would have helped to get ideas from how/where other mentor pairs were doing meetings and what other topics they discussed or found to be valuable.

2Civility: Thanks for those great suggestions. We encourage all sponsoring organizations to hold periodic meetings with the mentoring pairs for “cross-pollination” if you will, and will reiterate that best practice. We will incorporate references to client development and volunteer opportunities in the next iteration of the program materials.

 2Civility: Did the two of you hold any of your mentoring meetings in an interesting or unusual location, or at an interesting or unusual event?

Letts: Not really, although we both have a strong interest in some evening television programs and we would sometimes text during or after those programs.

Barlow: We usually held our meetings in Eileen’s office, but we often had lunch before or after at various places so we were able to meet for a longer time and discuss numerous topics. We also met at the courthouse for one meeting, where Eileen introduced me to many attorneys and judges.

2Civility: Eileen, did you have one or more mentors that made a difference in your career that you care to tell us about?

Letts: One of my first employers, Justice Glenn Johnson, was a mentor that had an effect on my life and career. He encouraged me to get involved in bar association work, took me to different events that he attended and introduced me to numerous judges and attorneys. That relationship was very influential in my development as an attorney.

2Civility: Maria, having completed the program, would you recommend it to other young attorneys, and why?

Barlow: Yes, I think this experience is invaluable. I was able to connect with an attorney who is knowledgeable, experienced, smart and kind. I feel that having developed this relationship with Eileen, I am able to lean on her for personal and professional advice. The program gives newer attorneys a chance to learn from a more experienced attorney who can give them practical and professional advice that will help them for years to come.

2Civility: Thank you both for your participation in the program, and for sharing your thoughts with our readers.

Katherine Erwin

Katherine Erwin

As the Commission's Special Projects Director, Katherine managed the statewide attorney mentoring program and other special projects. She practiced law in Chicago for 20 years. Then she founded the Chicago office of a legal placement agency, and placed highly credentialed attorneys in law firms, corporate legal departments and governmental agencies. Most recently, Kathy served in the Career Services Office of the University of Chicago Law School. A graduate of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and the University of Michigan Law School, she lives in Lincoln Park with her husband and daughter.

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Katherine Erwin

Katherine Erwin

As the Commission's Special Projects Director, Katherine managed the statewide attorney mentoring program and other special projects. She practiced law in Chicago for 20 years. Then she founded the Chicago office of a legal placement agency, and placed highly credentialed attorneys in law firms, corporate legal departments and governmental agencies. Most recently, Kathy served in the Career Services Office of the University of Chicago Law School. A graduate of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and the University of Michigan Law School, she lives in Lincoln Park with her husband and daughter.

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