Lawyer Mentoring Takeaways

Lawyer MentoringThis spring, Illinois welcomed over 550 new attorneys to the profession. After graduating from law school and passing the bar exam, there is no doubt that this group is well-educated and well-informed about the fundamentals of the law. However, in many ways the learning curve only gets steeper after being sworn-in.

So much of what is involved in properly representing clients depends on circumstances and wisdom gained through experience, and having a well-seasoned attorney to help guide the way is a great asset.

To help new lawyers acclimate to the profession, the Commission developed the Lawyer-to-Lawyer Mentoring Program. Both mentor and mentee receive six hours of professional responsibility CLE credit for successful completion of the program. Now in its fourth year of operation, the program has paired thousands of attorneys and tremendous learning is reported on both sides of the relationship. Two attorneys who recently participated the program agreed to share some of the benefits they gained from their mentoring relationship.

Patricia (Patty) Nelson and Tremaine (Trey) Maebry completed the year-long program through the Chicago Bar Association. Here are some of their thoughts on the value of mentoring.

Patricia Nelson served as the mentor. She is the Director of the Access to Justice and Foreclosure Mediation Programs at Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, where she has dedicated her career to legal aid for nearly 20 years.  Patty specializes in volunteer program development and supervises and trains hundreds of volunteer pro bono attorneys in foreclosure and real estate litigation and mediation.  She has been a featured speaker for IICLE, the CBA and other bar associations and organizations.

Tremaine Maebry was the mentee. Tremaine is a native of New Haven, Connecticut and has held a number of senior legal consultant positions in both the public and private sectors over his ten-year career as a labor and employment attorney. Tremaine holds a Juris Doctor degree and a Masters in Business Administration from Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, Massachusetts.  He is admitted to practice law before the states of Illinois and Maryland.  He currently holds the position of EEO Compliance Manager with Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation (“Metra”) in downtown Chicago. (Tremaine has more experience than a typical mentee in the program but qualified to be mentored because he was within the first three years of admission to practice in Illinois.)

2Civility: What are some of the things you learned from your mentor/mentee, and how will you use them in your practice?

Nelson: I am a supervising attorney at a legal aid office and my mentee is in house counsel for a large public transportation company. I often work with volunteers who have no direct experience with what I am trying to teach them which can be frustrating. Over the years, that has left me somewhat jaded. After getting to know Trey, I realized that the problem is mine, not theirs. As a volunteer supervisor, I need to harness the talents and skills my volunteers bring to the table. My relationship with Trey really highlighted the fact that in house and transactional attorneys are very smart and good at what they do. If I were thrown into their world, I would not adapt half as well as they do to mine. In a nutshell, I am now more consciously tolerant of my volunteers, especially those who are practicing in the transactional field and trying to learn litigation.

Maebry: I have worked as a legal consultant or in-house counsel for most of my professional career. Although I have experience arguing before most fair employment practice agencies and negotiating labor contracts with unions, I have never been as confident in my abilities as a litigator as I would like to be. Opportunities to gain experience in this are few and far between, so I stepped outside of my comfort zone and tried to litigate cases by participating in pro-bono and volunteer activities.

I shared my insecurities with Patty during our first meeting, and she re-assured me. Patty met me where I was professionally and even emotionally at times, and she gave me confidence to pursue a long-standing dream of mine. She was patient and supportive; answered all of the questions I could think to ask – of which there were many—and pointed me in the right direction when I went astray. In the end, she became not just a mentor but a really good friend.   I still have questions, concerns and fears, but whenever I pick up the phone, she is ready and willing to help.   Because of her I am more confident in my abilities, more patient with myself and more likely to forgive myself when I do make a mistake.

2Civility: How and when did you usually meet?

Nelson: We usually met for lunch or after work.

2Civility: Did you participate or schedule a mentoring session around any unusual events, or in any unusual places?

Nelson: One of our sessions took place after Trey attended a pro bono training session. I was able to help him to digest the training and apply it to his pro bono practice while it was fresh in his mind.

Maebry: That was a great session because I needed to talk through some of the procedural matters I had just learned, and I was uncomfortable proceeding without this guidance.

2Civility: Will you continue a relationship with your mentoring partner?

Maebry: Absolutely, she is my friend. Patty is extremely busy but she has always been responsive and present when I need her.

Nelson: Absolutely, I grew to respect Trey as a lawyer and he has definitely become a friend.

2Civility: Do you have any specific suggestions for other mentoring pairs as to how to make the most of their mentoring relationship?

Maebry: Communication is key. Being able to talk to Patty without fear of being judged was all that I needed. I grew more comfortable with this over time and it really did make all the difference.

Nelson: Don’t be afraid to ask the other person for what you are looking for. The relationship will only work if both parties communicate about what they are trying to get from participating in the program.

 The Lawyer-to-Lawyer Mentoring Program is sponsored by over 75 organizations around the state. For questions about how to get involved as a mentor or a mentee, please contact Program Coordinator, Brittany Wisniewski.

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