Reflecting back on my own experience, I’ve realized that my career and my professional choices have been remarkably shaped and influenced by a series of mentors, starting in my school days. In addition to my parents, a handful of individuals took the time to listen, share their own experiences, and guide me as I took each step along the way. They’ve been teachers, advisors, bosses, elected officials, and leaders with the various organizations I have led. Each became a dear and trusted friend who has enriched my life.
org lmartin wisbar Larry J. Martin is the executive director for the State Bar of Wisconsin.
During my time at the State Bar of Wisconsin, I’ve observed a number of mentoring efforts throughout the state. What I’ve learned is that no one size fits all. Success comes in many shapes and sizes.
Take the Dane County Bar Association, for example. The late Joe Melli, a great lawyer and a true gentleman of the legal profession, helped found a local mentoring program that brings together experienced attorneys with new colleagues in their first five years of practice. Thirteen years and a few hundred lawyers later, mentors with the Melli Mentorship Program provide advice on what it takes to be a good, sound, responsible attorney. The program, under the leadership of attorneys Josh Kindkeppel and Jack Sweeney, has become the gold standard for local bar mentoring programs and has been successfully emulated at other local bar associations in Wisconsin.
The Tri-County Bar, for lawyers in Oneida, Vilas, and Forest counties, doesn’t have any formal program or structure in place. But it would be a mistake to assume that mentoring is not going on. In Wisconsin’s Northwoods, new lawyers are greatly welcomed, encouraged to become involved, and taken under the collective wing of the local legal community. It’s not unusual for newer lawyers to be tapped to lead the local bar association. This ensures the newer lawyer’s connection with every attorney in the area.
I’m really proud of the State Bar’s own mentoring program, Ready.Set.Practice, now in its fifth year. This voluntary program matches new lawyers across Wisconsin with experienced mentors in order to assist with law practice management, effective client representation, and career development. Applications from prospective mentees for 2020 are being taken through Nov. 15, 2019.
At its best, mentoring is a relationship in which the mentor and the mentee learn from one another, sharing experiences, gaining empathy and understanding, and ultimately bridging generations.
The first years of a lawyer’s practice are crucial for the development of professional habits, practices, and character. But this time can be stressful and challenging as a new lawyer adjusts to the pressures of practice management, client relations, and the adversarial process.
Mentoring is not a one-way street of experienced lawyers simply passing their knowledge to new lawyers. At its best, it is a relationship in which the mentor and the mentee learn from one another, sharing experiences, gaining empathy and understanding, and ultimately bridging generations. Knowledge can be learned, but wisdom is passed on.
In the end, mentoring is the simple act of each of us reaching out, connecting, and learning from each other in both formal and informal ways and settings. And it starts with a conversation.