professional COLUMN

The value of our mentorship programs

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  • | 12:00 p.m. January 26, 2004
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When most of us graduated from law school, we assumed that, but for learning the nuances of our new offices, we would be up and ready to practice law . . . our lifelong dreams.

However, most of us soon learned that this was not at all correct. In fact, but for reading some great cases and having a generalized concept of what the law might be, we really had no idea HOW TO PRACTICE LAW . . . and this is where the mentoring process is crucial.

It makes all the sense in the world to me now why law was originally taught by the

apprentice method rather than the “here’s your law degree, have a nice practice” method.

It must be very hard for new lawyers to begin their practice as sole practitioners.

Lawyers who begin their practice with law firms clearly have such an advantage over the rest of us, as they have an office full of much-revered legal expertise.

To give you a little example of how mentoring can be such an asset I will share my first day as a civil lawyer. After almost 10 years as an Assistant State Attorney, I felt more than casually prepared to handle a simple motion to set. Luckily, before I was sent off, my able assistant gently reminded me to pick up the court file. I was so grateful since I wrongly assumed the Judge already had it, since it was calendared.

I arrived at the courthouse (which I could find) and then only had to ask one Clerk’s Office employee where I might find the file. She directed me through a labyrinth of hallways and closely manicured shrubs. After filling out a blank 3-by-5 piece of scrap paper, I grabbed the file and ran to chambers.

Then I quickly realized my embryonic CIVIL state. First, I had no idea who the defense attorney was. I was competent enough to look down at the pleadings and see whose name was on them. But I had so many questions. Do you remain in the hallway until you find the named attorney? Do you ask around to find them, do they find you, or will divine intervention intercede? Would that attorney even be there or would someone else from the firm be there? Do I go on into chambers at this point, since the attorney I was looking for may already be inside?

I took a risk and went on in. Luckily, my experience paid off and I recognized some of the other attorneys and sidled up to one of them to see if they knew who I was looking for. But this morning was turning into a long list of questions rather than one more day in my already lengthy law practice.

I took another risk and sat in one of the chairs around the periphery of chambers. I assumed if I continued to stand, I would be a distraction to the Judge, though this was due to common sense, not legal expertise. But then I wondered in what order do the cases get called? Would the Judge call them? Should I? Should the defense or plaintiff attorney call the case? To further complicate an already murky morass of procedural confusions, I also had no idea on what side of the table to sit.

I already knew the judge, so I was not sure if I should introduce myself (as I recalled that that could be an irritation to the judiciary). I did anyway, since I wanted him to know that I had left the State Attorney’s Office, and I had not gotten lost looking for a criminal courtroom.

Then I wondered, who would speak first? Was I supposed to hand the file to the judge?

I assumed I did, but at what point? Thankfully, my assistant had included the envelopes that I would later learn were so important. Nobody had advised me that I would need to fill out the Motion to Set sheet, although the judge quickly and kindly advised me that I may want to do that the next time. I was at least grateful that I would not face these questions again or that at least I could verify the answers when I arrived back at the office.

Now, obviously this little personally anguishing tongue-in-cheek scenario is a compelling commentary on how important and necessary the mentoring process is. But the mentoring process answers so much more than the simple “Duval County” procedural questions. It allows you, at any point in your career, to ask an experienced attorney for guidance in your day-to-day practice, including procedural and substantive questions, as well as ethical and personal ones. And to those of you who drip with legal experience (and you know who you are), give of yourself to other less experienced lawyers and become a mentor.

If you need some additional inspiration to become a mentor or protegee, I urge you to read (or reread as the case may be) the May 2003 Florida Bar Journal article by Tod Aronovitz, entitled “Mentoring is for You!” which you can find online.

The mentoring process that is grandfathered by The Florida Bar (through a novel e-mentoring process) and through the Jacksonville Bar is available to you at any time, whether your career is just beginning, changing, or firmly established and you would like another experienced legal mind with whom to bounce around ideas.

If you are a lawyer who would like to help Florida law students generally or in a special area, you can visit The Florida Bar website at and click on the

“Professionalism” header found on the left side. On that screen, scroll down for the “mentoring” header and follow the prompts to glean further information. This program, as its title suggests, involves mentoring via computer.

If you wish to participate in the program on a local level, please contact the Mentor Program Committee at The Jacksonville Bar Association website at The Bar staff can send you information that will further explain the program.

I second Mr. Aronovitz’s words and encourage you to use these incredibly worthwhile programs, whether you benefit by gaining incredible legal perspective or are able to share the wealth that you have learned with the future of Jacksonville’s legal profession.

If you would like to write an article about an ethical or professionalism experience that others in the Bar may learn from, please contact Caroline Emery, Chair of the Professionalism Column, at [email protected].



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