Why Mentoring Matters

MentorWho was your mentor? Since joining the Commission earlier this year to head our statewide Lawyer-to-Lawyer Mentoring Program, I’ve found that most lawyers can immediately name a person or two who gave them a real leg up early in their career. In some cases, it took the form of a gentle suggestion about how the new lawyer might have done something better. Sometimes, it was taking the time to edit a document—over and over until the young lawyer got it right. Sometimes, it was just making a timely introduction or including them on a project or program.

If we are honest with ourselves, we didn’t really know all that much as young lawyers. Of course, many of us thought we did, but we really didn’t. Some lawyers are lucky enough to work in settings where there is a formal training program. Most of us, however, relied on the kindness of colleagues, friends or even sometimes kind opponents, to keep us from stepping over the edge. This week, over 2,000 new Illinois lawyers will be sworn in, and I bet that most of them could benefit from some mentoring.

One of the best things about working for the Commission is hearing how much lawyers enjoy participating in the Mentoring Program. It wasn’t much of a surprise to learn that the mentees enjoy the Program. What’s not to like? You get to learn valuable info at the elbow of a seasoned pro—the ins and outs of the courtroom, the local norms and customs, and how to turn all that theory from law school into practical representation of a real client. In some cases, your mentor can introduce you to others in her network, which is always a plus. But to my great surprise (and delight), the mentors love the Program every bit as much. They mention several benefits, including getting to know a younger lawyer—how law school training has (or hasn’t) changed over the years, how younger lawyers communicate, and how they use technology in their practice. Some mentors even report having gotten help from their mentees with their computers and smartphones! Many mentors reported something else: the satisfaction of helping pass the torch by sharing their experience and knowledge on to the next generation of lawyers. In that process, the mentors reinvigorated their own passion for the practice of law, and remembered why they chose the profession in the first place.

If those incentives aren’t enough, lawyers completing the program each receive six professional responsibility CLE credits at the end of the year-long mentoring term.

Would you like a mentor? Would you like to BE a mentor? Consider joining the over 1,100 Illinois attorneys who have completed, or are currently participating in, the Mentoring Program. The Mentoring section of the Commission’s website contains contacts at over 70 Approved Organizations currently running the Program. I am confident they will welcome your call.

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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