“Make sure you find a good mentor.” This was a constant piece of advice I heard before graduating from law school in 2003. Yet I would think to myself, “Great idea, but how do I find a good mentor?” The advice I received was it would happen organically. This is a good theory, but show me a lawyer who does not already have an overbooked schedule. Because of typical time demands on lawyers, a more formal mentoring program is necessary to match lawyers together, along with a mentoring plan to guide the pair.
Structured Mentoring now Exists in Illinois
In case you did not now, the Illinois Supreme Court formalized a year-long lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program in 2011. The Court even incentivized this program by providing the mentoring pair free professional responsibility credits per Illinois Supreme Court Rule 795(d)(11). On top of this, the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism created helpful mentoring resources such as a curriculum or “mentoring plan” for the pair that includes suggested action items.
This has led to a mentoring movement in Illinois as over 4,500 lawyers have participated in the formal mentoring programs through more than 80 organizations (bar associations, firms, and law schools) across the state. In addition, the Commission has awarded over 31,000 hours of free professional responsibility CLE credits to participants of the lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program.
Formal vs. Informal Mentoring Plan
Let’s have a moment of fun and generalize lawyers. Who doesn’t enjoy doing that? Here we go:
- Lawyers like to formalize things and write them down;
- Lawyers need a due date;
- Lawyers love to over-analysis almost everything; and
- Lawyers like rules to follow.
Does this sound like a set of people who would thrive in an informal program without a mentoring plan? Of course not! This is why a formal lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program is so ingenious.
The informal mentoring I had as a new lawyer was more reactive than proactive. It was often a frantic phone call or office visit about a crisis with a case or making sure I did not commit malpractice. The beauty of the current lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program is the mentoring plan makes the mentoring pair more focused on preventing an issue before it arises. For example, some suggested action items from the mentoring plan include: discussing law office management matters like conflict check procedures and time records, talking about and recognizing common malpractice and grievance traps, and discussing short-term and long-term career objectives.
The Data Speaks for Itself
While I think informal mentoring is and will continue to be useful, I have learned in my short time at the Commission the power of the formal lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program. The mentoring plan keeps people on task and holds them accountable. In 2017, the data shows that 99% of participants in the mentoring program said that they agree or strongly agree that the mentoring plan helped to focus the learning experience and that the mentoring plan supplement helped to facilitate discussions and learning. You don’t see percentages like that every day!
Time to Give the Program and Mentoring Plan a Try
“This is a terrific way to not only provide knowledge in a real-world context, but also to learn from the mentee about other aspects of the profession that I am not as acquainted with. The mentoring definitely ends up being in both directions! Bravo for putting together such a wonderful and practical experience to earn CLE.” –Reflection from a recent mentor
At the Commission, we continue to hear that both mentor and mentee benefit from the formal program. 99% of the mentors and mentees who completed the mentoring program in 2017 would recommend the program to other lawyers. In addition to such high praise from fellow lawyers, participants of the program also receive all six professional responsibility CLEs including the newly required (as of 7/1/17) one hour of diversity and inclusion and one hour of mental health and substance abuse. So, my only question for you potential mentees (those who are in their first five years of practice) and mentors (those who have been in practice for a minimum of five years) is “what are you waiting for?”
Admit that you would benefit from a formal program and mentoring plan, and let’s get started. If you are interested in becoming a mentor or a mentee in the lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program, please learn more at the 2Civility website or contact Professionalism Counsel of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, Mark Palmer. We look forward to hearing from you.