Ah mentorship — the latest state bar flavor of the month. Seems all the bars are doing it in various forms. But mandatory bars empowered as they are as a condition of licensure to compel lawyers to join and to pay dues to practice law are especially the self-anointed flavorists. And no longer satisfied with burdening new lawyers with required courses in “professionalism,” they’re moving to force the newly-admitted whether they like the taste or not to get their palates around year-long mandatory mentorship programs. So much for six-figure ‘practice-ready’ law school training.
Hardly a surprise. When they’re not cooking up solutions to nonexistent problems, state bars like to look like they’re helping — even when they’re not. It’s their version of George Costanza’s how to look like you’re busy when you’re really not.
Mentorship used to mean a trusting, voluntary relationship between an experienced senior guide and a willing, inexperienced junior colleague wanting personal and professional growth. In self-determined mentoring, the mentor voluntarily agreed to coach and to advise and the mentee voluntarily accepted the mentor’s tutelage.
Given what mentorship used to mean, “forced mentorship” turns the concept on its oxymoronic head even though it’s not quite the obvious incongruity as the compelled compassion of mandatory pro bono inflicted on New York’s wanna-be bar candidates. Professor Paul Campos called that one “utterly wrongheaded.” But it’s close.
Paraphrasing Ronald Reagan, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the bar and I’m here to help.'”
No easy task.
Mentoring doesn’t come easy, especially for lawyers who some argue “have never been big fans of people skills.” For one, lawyer-psychologist maintains “Culturally, the legal profession has historically relegated people skills to an unwelcome corner of the room. Even today, many lawyers belittle, dismiss, devalue and mock any mention of such skills.”
Moreover, who has the time? And second, trust and rapport don’t just happen. And then there’s what one publication referred to as “The Misery of Mentoring Millennials.” Research is finding the old “hard-core pursuit of guidance” mentorship models don’t work so well with the “bold and hungry” Generation Z more accustomed to Twitter-length conversations than long-term communications with their seniors.
And speaking of long-term conversations, there’s that other obvious challenge. Ask some lawyers what time it is and they build you a watch.
I asked one lawyer on a real estate matter how deep the well was on the rural property and never got an answer. Instead I heard an eye-glazing discourse on water tables, aquifers, bore holes and drilling machines.
Another lawyer gave me a rambling treatise on civil procedure in response to a query on the finer points of pleading sufficiency under Rule 12(b) (6). Don’t worry. I won’t bore you with pleading standards.
These are considerations to think about now that mandatory associations have delved into what they think is the next big thing. Not that they’ll pay attention. Group-think is tasty fodder for herd-following bar bureaucrats.
Six jurisdictions have already started mentoring programs requiring new law school grads to sign up and seasoned lawyers to volunteer. Of course they’re not free. New Mexico, for example, requires new lawyers to pay $300 for a “Bridge The Gap” program but at least that covers a year’s worth of continuing legal education. Utah’s program is similar with mentees earning 12 continuing legal education credits for their $300 required participation fee.
Under Oregon’s compulsory mentoring program, new lawyers pay $100 and get 6 continuing legal education credit hours toward the 45 hours of approved continuing legal education mandated in a 3 year reporting period.
Oregon’s program appears the one the bean-counters at the Arizona bar are hot and bothered over. But since Arizona’s bar leaders have yet to meet a fee they didn’t want to raise, don’t be surprised if mandatory mentorship doesn’t cost more here than in Oregon.
So while Millenial lawyers may get annoyed over one more hurdle to practice, it’s all good for the mandatory bars. After all, even if these programs are more facade than fix, the bars’ feel-good watch-me-do-something initiatives will not only look good but will create one more income stream.
Photo Credits: “oh.my.goshk,” by Abulic Monkey at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; Blah_blah.gif at Wikimedia Commons, by Obsidian Soul via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license; Benjamin Franklin shown here on a U.S. $100 bill, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.