That Conversation

By James Dimos

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a bar event where I was talking with some lawyers of my vintage, and the discussion turned to “that conversation.” What is “that conversation,” you may ask? You know — what’s the matter with new lawyers today? As seems to be the case whenever that question is raised, my fellow conversationalists bemoaned what they perceived to be unpreparedness for the actual practice of law on the part of the latest graduates from law school. Whether or not this perception concerning this generation of new lawyers is based in reality, I am confident “that conversation” was had by 50-something lawyers 28 years ago when I was a new lawyer and during the entire course of our profession’s history for that matter.

Soon afterwards, I attended another bar event (I seem to be attending a lot of those this year) and had a chance to talk to a group of law students and newer lawyers about their transition into the practice of law. During that conversation, they talked about the need to understand the practical aspects of the practice of law. Honestly, I probably felt the same way in 1986 when I became a lawyer, as have generations of lawyers before and after me.

When I started my practice, I was lucky to begin at a firm where mentors were readily available. Whether it was a senior partner or a peer, I had the benefit of practicing with lawyers who were supportive but not afraid to challenge and push me to do better. The same is true today. However, as most of the lawyers in Indiana practice by themselves or in small firms, they may not have such mentoring available just down the hall. For that reason, the ISBA offers Mentor Match, a program that helps newer lawyers become acclimated to the practice of law.

The purpose of the program is to elevate the competence, professionalism and success of Indiana lawyers through positive mentoring relationships. Mentoring creates an opportunity for an experienced lawyer to provide professional guidance and share practical knowledge and skills with a new lawyer during the critical transition from law student to legal practitioner. Specifically, the mentoring relationship should foster the development of the new lawyer’s practical skills and increase his or her knowledge of legal customs; contribute to a sense of integrity in the legal profession; promote collegial relationships among legal professionals and involvement in the organized bar; improve legal ability and professional judgment; and encourage the use of best practices and highest ideals in the practice of law.

One of the interesting aspects of Mentor Match is that our Supreme Court’s Commission for Continuing Legal Education has approved the Mentor Match program for continuing legal education (including ethics) and applied professionalism course credits. Thus, any lawyer in Indiana who serves as a mentor or mentee in the Mentor Match program and complies with its requirements may obtain CLE and/or APC credits.

Another interesting aspect of Mentor Match is that you can bring your own mentor or mentee to the program. So, if you’ve already developed a relationship with a mentor or mentee, the ISBA can help you with the necessary curriculum to make the experience comprehensive. This is helpful for lawyers in larger firms as it allows you to participate in your firm’s mentorship program and still obtain the CLE or APC credits. If you do not have a mentor or mentee in mind, then contact the ISBA, and we will help you find a candidate from our database.

Once the relationship has been established, the ISBA will provide a mentor orientation manual for use during the program. This manual will outline the whole arrangement and timelines. Once you design your individual curriculum to receive your CLE/Ethics/APC credits, all the features of the program and the curriculum and reference materials can easily be downloaded or read from links on the ISBA website.

Upon completion of the necessary hours of mentoring time, you can submit a “certificate of completion” signed by the both of you and receive the appropriate credit. At that point, the program is over unless you want it to continue. We hope that during the course of the program you have formed a long-term relationship with an attorney that will allow both of you to learn from each other for the rest of your professional lives.

Currently, we have 105 mentors and 112 mentees participating in the program. Since 2010, Mentor Match has had nearly 230 mentors providing guidance to 255 mentees. While these are impressive numbers, we would love to have a larger program and encourage both our newer and experienced lawyers to participate. Besides the fact mentors and mentees can receive CLE or APC credit, both will have the invaluable opportunity to connect with a professional colleague — a connection that will lead to a mutual learning experience. It is also an opportunity to improve our profession, increase civility and provide the public with better-trained practitioners. This is our profession, and here is a chance to make it better. I hope that you take the opportunity to do so.

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