The Power of Mentoring
The Bencher--March/April 2013
By John P. Cannizzaro
It still makes me emotional thinking about it." These words come
from Florida Supreme Court Justice Fred Lewis as he reflects on his
mentor. Since being admitted to the bar 40 years ago, Justice Lewis
still has fond memories of his mentor, Miami attorney Ed Perse.
Even though Mr. Perse is deceased, Justice Lewis regularly talks to
members of his family and still visits them. In speaking to Justice
Lewis, he recounted to me a moving experience where he assisted
Perse in walking to his office to get his mail one last time.
Justice Lewis is very passionate about having positive mentors, as
he is well aware that his relationship with his mentor was
life-altering for him.
Justice Lewis believes that he was very lucky to find such a
mentor that has had a life-long impact on him. Justice Lewis
encourages each of us to seek out mentors that have the highest
levels of professionalism and character. In his words, "honesty and
openness" are two important factors when looking for a mentor who
can potentially have a substantial influence in our legal careers,
and quite possibly our lives as a whole.
A good mentoring partnership should begin promptly in law
school. Many law schools have mentoring programs. One of the more
successful mentoring programs can be found at the University of
California Hastings College of the Law. The director of the
mentoring program, Phil Marshall is passionate about mentoring, and
has been working with the school's mentoring program more than 15
years. He and his staff have cultivated a mentoring program with
more than 1,000 mentors in more than 12 different countries.
The program works seamlessly between the students and the
mentors. Students who are interested in the mentoring program,
first attend an orientation meeting, which allows Marshall to go
over the goals of the mentoring process and detail what is expected
of both the students and the mentors. Once the students have
attended this meeting, they research the potential mentors and make
a list of mentors in whom they are interested. The research is done
mostly through the social media website, LinkedIn. For mentors who
choose not to be on LinkedIn, a complete directory is available for
students to browse.
Once the student has a list of possible mentors, he or she meets
with Marshall and discusses the choices. Numerous factors are
important to the students in selecting a mentor. Some students
might be interested in older or younger mentors in a variety of
practices with diverse cultural, ethnic, and legal backgrounds.
While some students attempt to "match" some traits with their
mentors, the best mentoring relationships are sometimes formed
between two completely different individuals. It is these
relationships that, once fostered, can have a powerful effect on
Marshall works with the students to help them select mentors,
but allows the students to make their own final decision. Students
learn that it is okay to have numerous mentors and that if one
mentoring relationship does not work out, they are encouraged to
try another mentor. There are certainly intangible factors at work
as well. "Some of the best mentoring occurs because personalities
mesh well. It is really the chemistry between the two", says
Marshall in explaining the success of the program.
Law school students are certainly not the only ones who can
benefit from a positive mentoring program. Law firms, large and
small, have been developing and implementing mentoring programs for
many years. One mentoring program that needs to be highlighted is
the mentoring program headed up by Mr. Tom Colis, who is in charge
of the Miller Canfield firm's mentoring program.
The mentoring program at Miller Canfield, led by Tom Colis, a
principal in the firm's Detroit office, is designed for newly hired
associates, whether they just graduated law school or are a lateral
hire. The purpose of the mentoring program is to provide an
experience that is, as Colis says, "more focused, less stressed,
and to give them a better idea of their career goals."
The program works hand in hand with the recruitment efforts of
the firm. All new associates have mentoring opportunities set up
for them prior to their first day, which helps to ensure a smooth
transition into the practice.
The firm initially assigns two mentors to the new associate, an
associate mentor and a principal mentor. The associate mentor is
usually a younger associate who can easily relate to the new
associate and assist him or her with day-to-day tasks and help him
or her get acclimated to the new environment. The principal mentor
is a partner in the firm who provides the associate with further
reaching mentoring experience. The principal mentor helps the
associate learn about the firm, and particular legal practice
areas, as well as introduces the associate to the movers and
shakers in the practice. The program runs for the first few years
an associate is with the firm.
One of Colis's biggest successes with the firm's mentoring
program is his ability to "get the mentoring program out in front."
Colis has branded the firm's mentoring program with its own logo,
letterhead, events, and receptions. The entire firm is invested in
the mentoring program, which helps to keep the associates happy
with their jobs. The associates in turn want to learn more about
the firm and what they can do to advance, not only in the firm as
partners, but also in their legal paths. Yearly seminars for both
mentors and mentees are held as well as receptions following these
events. All of the mentoring events are well attended and Colis is
always looking for ways to improve the program.
Besides law firms having mentoring programs, some states now
require a mentoring program. One of the most innovative bar
association mentoring programs is the State Bar of Georgia's
Transition Into Law Practice Program (TILPP). Heading the program
is Tangela King, who is very pleased with how the program has
developed. The program itself began with a pilot program and has
been more than 15 years in the making.
King is very excited with the program and the great resources
that it provides, and says that "the goal of the program is to
guide new attorneys to acquire practical skills, judgment, and
professional values necessary to practice law." To make this goal a
reality, the program provides all new lawyers with access to an
experienced lawyer who teaches the practical skills, seasoned
judgment, and sensitivity to ethical and professionalism
The program is not a cookie cutter type of program and
encompasses a variety of legal jobs, including mentoring to the
lawyer who is not yet employed. There are three varieties of
mentoring within the program: inside mentoring for those in large
firms or public service; outside mentoring for those in small or
solo firms; and group mentoring for those who are not yet employed.
One of the best parts of the program is the freedom given to law
firms in developing mentoring programs themselves, so long as their
programs comply with the State Bar of Georgia's rules. In this
manner, each program is unique and focused on the best possible
style that matches a firm's identity. King has the ability to view
each firm's program and can assist the firms as well as any
individuals navigating the required steps.
King has received numerous requests to help with other states'
mentoring programs as well as from other countries around the world
that are interested in Georgia's mentoring program. She prides
herself on the fact that, since the existence of the program, there
has been a drop in complaints to Georgia's Bar. While the Georgia
Bar has been very proactive in dealing with ethics and
professionalism as a whole, there is no denying that the mentoring
program is an important component to the process.
Regardless of when you begin your mentoring journey, there are
some things to reflect upon in the process. In talking to Ida
Abbott, one of the pre-eminent experts in the field of mentoring
and career development, I was able to get some valuable input.
Abbott breaks down mentoring into two levels: skills development
and career advancement. She suggests thinking of mentoring as a
pyramid, with sponsorship at the top of the pyramid. Sponsorship is
when a mentor really stands up to bat for the younger attorney, and
is able to help get the position in the firm the attorney is
seeking or the legal job to which the attorney aspires.
There is a vested interest in promoting and hiring the best
attorneys out there-it makes our profession that much better.
Abbott suggests that each attorney have his or her own board of
mentors, similar to a board of directors. She encourages a variety
of mentors and suggested mentors do not necessarily have to be
lawyers. Each mentor plays a vital role in our development as
lawyers, whether a partner in our firm, an attorney on the other
side of the aisle, or someone we have only read about and
"Most attorneys are more helpful in providing mentorship
opportunities than you think," says Abbott. Most attorneys are
flattered to be contacted about being a mentor. Before working to
establish mentoring opportunities, one of the most important steps
Abbott describes is "self-awareness." An attorney should identify
the direction of his or her legal career and what goals are needed
to achieve this. Prior to developing a mentoring team it is also
important to understand that mentoring relationships will change as
an attorney advances in his or her career. The path from law school
graduate to practicing law and career advancement will change as
you follow it and different mentoring experiences will be
invaluable to your continued success.
In conclusion, we all should be proactive in seeking mentoring
opportunities. We need to be willing to work with attorneys who
seek our assistance. Whether it be in law school, through a formal
program, or an informal meeting, the power of mentoring is a great
force in our legal profession. We have the ability to shape
attorneys' views on our practice areas, professionalism, and
ethics. Through mentoring there is hope for all of us to reach our
John P. Cannizzaro is a trial attorney at the law firm of
Steinger, Iscoe & Greene in Port St. Lucie, Florida and is a
member of the Justice Major B. Harding AIC in Stuart,
© 2013 JOHN P. CANNIZZARO, ESQ. This article
was published in the March/April 2013 issue of The
Bencher, the flagship magazine of the American Inns of Court.
This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted,
distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the
express written consent of the American Inns of Court.