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Jax Daily Record Monday, May. 26, 201412:00 PM EST

Bar Bulletin: We need mentors for young lawyers

by: Braxton Gillam

For many years The Jacksonville Bar Association has sponsored a mentoring program.

The program has successfully fostered relationships between a number of the older and newer members of our legal community. The importance of a strong mentoring program, however, grows each day.

The practice of law is changing, whether we like it or not. Due to a generally difficult job market, we have seen a significant increase in new lawyers either hanging a shingle or banding together with other new lawyers to start firms immediately after passing the Bar examination.

Many of us who went to work for the government or an established firm after graduation took for granted the fact that there was always someone close to steer us in the right direction. Even today we often forget the value many of us derive from the confidant down the hall who is ready, willing and able to answer a question when it arises.

Last summer, the Florida Supreme Court issued an order requiring each circuit to establish a Professionalism Panel to receive and respond to complaints of incivility and other unprofessional conduct. The move was, in part, due to the increasing number of complaints to The Florida Bar involving unprofessional conduct among new lawyers.

Within the preamble of the Rules of Professional Conduct it provides that, “… every lawyer is responsible for the observance of the Rules of Professional Conduct. A lawyer should also aid in securing their observance by other lawyers. Neglect of these responsibilities compromises the independence of the profession and the public interest that it serves.”

Ultimately, part of our duty as lawyers is to mentor other lawyers to ensure that they are not only aware of the specific rules of conduct, but understand how the rules apply in the day to day practice of law.

In recognition of these issues, and the fact that a growing number of new lawyers in our community are graduates of Florida Coastal School of Law, the JBA and FCSL co-sponsored three professionalism programs at the school last month.

On April 2, a panel program on mentoring was held in the evening at FCSL. The panel was moderated by Kevin Cook, the chair of the JBA Mentoring Committee, and panelists included U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan; County Court Judge Gary Flower; JBA Past Presidents Jim Moseley Jr., Dan Bean and Mike Freed; JBA board member Michael Bateh; and Caroline Kubovy. While 120 students registered for the program, the room seated 150 and was filled to capacity for the event.

On April 8, a panel program on the value of JBA membership was held at the law school over lunch. I moderated the program and was joined by JBA Past President Courtney Grimm, JBA President-elect Troy Smith, JBA Executive Director Susan Sowards and JBA Pro Bono Committee Chair Kathy Para. Forty students participated in this program.

The three-part program culminated with a panel on professionalism in the courts on April 15. This panel was moderated by Circuit Judge Karen Cole. Panel members included Circuit Judge Tom Beverly and County Court Judges Roberto Arias and Gary Flower. Approximately 130 students attended and participated in this event.

From the success of these events, it is obvious is that we are making progress in meeting our duty to mentor new lawyers and that law students in our community recognize they need our help — and are asking for it. Since April, we have received in excess of 100 new requests for a mentor. Traditionally, we have always had more lawyers volunteer to be a mentor than requests for a mentor. Today, that is not the case and we need your help.

One of the most common myths about mentoring is that it takes too much time. In fact, participants in mentoring programs consistently report that mentoring takes less time than they expected. One or two short phone calls a week often is all that is required.

While an occasional meeting for coffee or lunch (or even a beer after work) can serve to build the familiarity that leads to trust and a longer-term relationship, a long-term friendship is not necessary to provide the basic guidance and feedback that a young lawyer needs as he or she enters the practice of law.

Raising the quality of legal services in our community benefits everyone and mentoring a young lawyer is a great way to help reach this goal. Please help us by contacting the Bar office and volunteering for this worthy project.

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