Good, capable attorneys need more than the ability to analyze a case or read a statute. They also require skills that come from observation or perhaps were learned from a mentor. Sometimes counties have “unwritten” local rules that are the best way to practice in that county, and judges might have preferences for how matters are presented. These are not things that newer, less experienced attorneys can intuit, but they could be passed along by mentors. Knowing such information can make a significant difference in capably representing clients.
Similarly, new lawyers might not have the experience to navigate the complexities of a larger law office or governmental position. As a newer attorney, I did not have the life experience to understand law office policies and politics. Attorneys might be able to get this information from coworkers, but doing so can be uncomfortable.
I know the value of mentors. I have been fortunate to have excellent attorneys help me learn not only the law but also how to practice law. If a newer attorney does not have a mentor within the office, what are the options? The State Bar of Wisconsin offers
Ready.Set.Practice, a mentoring program for lawyers with less than five years of experience. Each year, the State Bar takes applications for mentors and mentees, but it usually has more of the latter than the former.
I have been a mentor several times in the program; it does not take a large amount of time. Mentors usually meet with their mentees (for example, via videoconferencing) about once per month and discuss issues such as challenges in the practice of law or how to handle an office or personal issue. The issues are often selected by the mentee, but the relationship is reciprocal. I often learn from the mentee as well!
Mentors usually meet with their mentees (for example, via videoconferencing) about once per month and discuss issues such as challenges in the practice of law or how to handle an office or personal issue.
Other options may be available for mentoring through a local bar association. For example, the Dane County Bar Association has a long-standing, well-regarded mentorship program. Or you may prefer a less formal relationship. I have often had lunch or coffee with attorneys who are interested in family or elder law. It is nice to discuss the positives and negatives of practicing in these areas and how to get involved in each.
If you want to help newer attorneys but only have time for a phone call or an email, consider some other approaches. You can volunteer on the State Bar
Lawyer-to-Lawyer Directory, or you can participate in an electronic list in your practice area to answer questions posted by less experienced attorneys.
I hope that all lawyers will engage in mentoring, formally or informally. It is the way that we model for less experienced attorneys how the profession works. It is a way to give back that costs very little but can lead to invaluable results. Everyone benefits if attorneys have the knowledge and skills to succeed in their chosen area of practice.
Ready.Set.Practice. The State Bar of Wisconsin’s lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program is accepting applications for mentors and mentees. Apply by Oct. 15.
This voluntary program matches new lawyers (less than 5 years) with experienced mentors to assist with law practice management, effective client representation, and career development. Mentors and mentees will be matched in November–December 2022.
For details and to apply, visit
» Cite this article:
95 Wis. Law. 4 (Sept. 2022).