Rochelle Johnson-Bent displays a crystal apple awarded
to her as the Young Lawyers Division Outstanding Mentor.
What is the best quality in a mentor? The worst?
The best qualities of those who mentored me were patience; open to hearing my thoughts and ideas; giving me insight to things and ideas that I would not have thought of on my own; providing concrete feedback; offering inspirational and encouraging words; relating with my struggles; and pushing me even when I did not think I was ready because they saw the potential in me.
The worst quality? Lack of interest in my success.
What does a mentor gain in helping to develop new lawyers?
You gain a new perspective and refreshed education. At times, we get so used to the routine of what we do that we no longer ask the question, “Why am I doing this?” But when you are mentoring or training someone, you are not really teaching them the legal profession if you are not teaching them the reasoning. So when you are open to teaching the “why,” you start to ask yourself questions along the way and start to reorganize and research your own theories, strategies, and understanding of the law.
How do you determine who to mentor? How does that relationship begin?
It was really natural for me to mentor newer lawyers who started working after me. As a young lawyer myself, only practicing since June 2010, I still remember how it feels to realize how little you know when you first start working somewhere but also feeling as if you should know it all. I view my colleagues as my teammates, because we all gain from each other’s experiences and learn from each other’s obstacles.
Current practice area: Family Law
Current firm: Legal Aid Society of
Years in practice: 7
Law school: University of Wisconsin
Favorite place in Wisconsin: State
Fair or anywhere with a good brunch
Favorite food: Lasagna
Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org
I did not wait for the new lawyers to come to me. I check in frequently with them. I ask about their cases and talk about their positions and arguments. I ask if they want to come to court with me, talk about what they observe, and discuss what they would do differently. I do all this in preparation of putting them on the record as soon as they are ready. Usually they will say they do not think they are ready, but then they do it and they do great. I give honest feedback and then encourage them to learn from others. I keep an open door and make myself available so they do not feel they are alone.
When I first started practicing, and even now, I mainly wanted to talk to my boss-mentor about what I planned to do to make sure I was on the right track and not getting lost in the details. I initially would say I have a question, but really, I just needed someone who could help me organize my thoughts, and that often is what my mentees want as well. They are not coming to me for answers, because they usually know the answers, but to confirm their thought process or to be challenged on their position so they feel prepared for court.
Is it important to meet regularly? How often? Where?
Initially with newer lawyers, meeting frequently is best because it is all about giving them direction and encouragement; but once they find their own style and routine, I still check in with them every once in a while. However, it still is important for me to leave an open door for them to come to me, even if it is just to vent or talk about various issues. The most common issue new lawyers struggle with initially is case management. I do not judge or scold anyone for their feelings. And, I view all my mentees as my friends as well, because if you view them as friends, you become invested in their success.
As a mentor, do you encourage “shadowing”?
Yes! Although I do not think they need to shadow every scenario or case with you before they are on their own, seeing someone else do what you do and how you do it gives them a stronger basis for your leadership. Plus, when you have someone shadowing, you usually are an even better version of yourself because you want to lead by example while showing them the realities of your work.
How much or how little do you involve a mentee in your own work?
As much as I believe they can handle. I need to have some form of trust in them that they can handle the work I am giving them. Initially, I usually will monitor their work more closely, but as they prove themselves capable, I quickly allow them to take charge of the task I give them, only giving them suggestions as needed.
How much or how little do you get involved in a mentee’s work?
What is the best advice you can give to someone thinking about becoming a mentor?
Be the mentor you sought out when you looked for a mentor yourself.
What are the top unconventional lessons you’ve learned about law practice and mentoring?
One is that I can learn from my mentees as much as they can learn from me.
Another is that mentors are reluctant to invest significant amounts of time on mentees because they doubt that the return will be worth it. However, I found that spending the time to mentor has had just as positive an impact on my practice as it has had on my mentees.
What do you do for fun? What are you passionate about?
Nothing, I am a mother of two small children. If you can count eating dinner, watching television, or sleeping without interruption “fun,” then I choose that answer. Seriously, spending time with my family and friends and traveling are my favorite moments and my current passions.
4 Ways to Connect with Your Peers
Looking for a mentor, ready to mentor? Worried you’re in over your head? Here are four ideas to get you started:
Sign up for Ready.Set.Practice, the State Bar of Wisconsin’s new mentoring program. The program enrolls new mentees and mentors each fall. Interested? Contact Megan Zurbriggen at email@example.com or go to WisBar.org/readysetpractice.
Turn to the Lawyer-to-Lawyer Directory. Find a network of nearly 400 lawyers who agree to share their knowledge in particular areas of law with other lawyers through free, brief telephone consultations. Go to WisBar.org/lawyer2lawyer.
Join a State Bar section or division. Connect with legal professionals in 24 different practice areas or four areas of interest (young, senior, government, or nonresident lawyers). Many of these groups have elists to help you answer your questions. Visit the Groups page.
Join your local or specialty bar. Find lawyers near you or with a similar purpose. Look for Wisconsin Law-related Agencies and Organizations on WisBar.org.