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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    August 01, 2012

    Inside the Bar: If You Build It...

    The State Bar is poised to help local bars statewide emulate the successful Dane County Bar Association's model mentoring program.

    George C. Brown

    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 85, No. 8, August 2012


    George BrownLast night was my last regular-season game of softball for the year. Except for the tournament held each year by our sponsor for all the teams it supports, that's it until next spring.

    I've played on the same softball team since 1975, but instead of a bunch of young graduate school and law students, we're now a mixture of old and young, recruiting among friends and family. In fact, there are three father-son combos on the team these days. Over the years, I've watched the sons grow from bored three-year-olds to accomplished left fielders and third basemen with powerful bats and strong arms. And I've watched the fathers transition: one from a second baseman who could easily turn a double play to a catcher (that would be me); and another from a third baseman who threw so hard he once broke a fielder's hand to a first baseman. So the end of the season is always a time of reflection for me.

    In those reflective moments, I have wondered why my son can hit over-the-fence homeruns, while I'm a singles hitter at best. I think it is because he played Little League and high school baseball, where he received regular coaching, and I've always played sandlot softball with no coaching. And just as coaching in sports makes a big difference, coaching in the practice of law can make a big difference in how well a new lawyer will perform.

    Instead of coaching, though, we call it mentoring. If you talk to new lawyers, especially those who have opened their own law offices, one of the first things they will tell you is that they wish they had someone to turn to for advice. Over the years, many state bars around the country have tried to develop statewide mentoring programs – with mixed success. Wisconsin has taken a different tack. Over the last five years, the State Bar has worked with the Dane County Bar Association (DCBA) to help develop a successful mentoring program.

    Begun as the Dane County Pilot Mentoring Program in January 2007 with 10 mentors and 10 mentees, the program has grown to 70 mentors and mentees who meet regularly on their own, at luncheons or at social hours. The Dane County Mentoring Program, recently renamed the Joseph A. Melli Mentoring Program to honor Joe's role as founder and his continuing commitment to the program, is successful partly because it establishes requirements for mentors and manages the expectations of mentees through an orientation manual. The manual outlines participants' responsibilities and provides ethics guidelines from State Bar Ethics Counsel Tim Pierce and suggestions for meeting topics, to establish continuity in the relationships and ensure that appropriate confidentiality is maintained.

    The State Bar has provided support to this program since its inception. The DCBA program has become a successful model for you to emulate in your own local bar, and the State Bar is ready to help. The State Bar and DCBA program leaders such as Joe Melli, Josh Kindkeppel, and Jack Sweeney will soon begin to work with local bar associations wanting to follow in the DCBA's footsteps.

    To learn more about this mentoring program, contact Cara Mavis at the State Bar of Wisconsin, (608) 250-6133 or (800) 444-9404, ext. 6133.

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