Mentoring Programs in the U.S.

As a recent post indicated, Oregon is now requiring mandatory mentoring for new attorneys , a concept that is certainly supported here on Best Practices.  We also know that Oregon is not the first state to enact mentoring as part of admission to the Bar.  We think it is worth providing a place to briefly discuss how Georgia, Utah, and South Carolina are establishing mentoring programs.

Georgia was the first state to make mentoring mandatory, and has become the model for mentoring.  The Transition into Practice Program took effect on January 1, 2006 following a decade of work.  The Transition into Law Practice Program combines a mentoring and a CLE component.  The CLE component   “lays the groundwork for and supports the mentoring component . . . Most beginning lawyers will attend an Enhanced Bridge-the-Gap Program that combines a day of introduction to law practice with a second day of instruction.”

Three types of mentoring are available.  If the new lawyer practices in a firm or organizational setting, he or she will have an “inside mentor” from that practice.  If the new lawyer does not practice with other lawyers (for instance, is a sole practitioner), he or she will have an “outside mentor”—someone who works outside of the new lawyer’s office.  Group mentoring is available when the new lawyer is unemployed or does not work in a legal setting.  Some firms, government agencies, and other organizations have developed their own “Master Mentoring Plans” that they use for all newly admitted attorneys subject to the Transition Into Law Practice Program.  If an employer has such a plan, then the mentor and mentee need not create and submit a written mentoring plan.

The only activity that mentees must complete (in the mentoring context) is the Advocacy Experience, and only if they appear as sole or lead counsel in Georgia’s Superior or State Courts in a contested civil case or a criminal trial.  In addition, mentoring activities and experiences may be created to best suit the needs and circumstances of the mentor and mentee.  However, the plan must include:

  1. Regular contact and meetings between the mentor and beginning lawyer.
  2. Continuing discussions between the mentor and beginning lawyer on at least the following topics: (a) Ethics and professionalism. (b) Relationships with clients, other lawyers (both in and outside the firm), the judiciary and the public, including unrepresented parties. (c) Professional work habits, organizational skills and practice management.(d) Economics of practicing law in the relevant practice setting. (e) Responsibility and opportunities for pro bono work, bar activities, and community service.
  3. Introduction to the local legal community. 
  4. Specific planning for professional development and continuing legal education in and outside the firm. 
  5. Periodic evaluation of the mentor-beginning lawyer relationship.

If the lawyer fails to complete the mentoring program within one year, he or she must complete an approved Rehabilitation Plan or attend a session of the State Bar’s Ethics School.

The Utah approach, called the New Lawyer Training Program is very similar to the Georgia approach and even includes the same three kinds of mentoring.  However, Utah provides fewer guidelines for mandatory activities. For instance, working with clients is mandatory, while negotiation is elective.  For both mandatory and elective subjects, new lawyers have a variety of activities that they either must or may complete.  For instance, the Model Plan states that in the required ‘working with clients’ section, the mentor must “[t]rain, through discussion and client interaction, how to screen for, recognize, and avoid conflicts of interest,” and may “[t]rain on how to decide whether to accept a proffered representation.”  After the mentor and new lawyer develop a particularized mentoring plan, they must submit it for approval by the NLTP program administrator and the New Lawyer Training Committee.  Once the plan is approved, the new lawyer has 12 months to complete the NLTP.  A sample plan can be found here.

In 2008, the South Carolina Supreme Court created the Lawyer Mentoring Second Pilot Project.  All new lawyers, even those who are currently unemployed, must register for the Project.  New lawyers are free to choose their mentors from within their firm or agency, or they may choose outside counsel.  South Carolina’s Uniform Mentoring Plan is designed differently than Utah’s and Georgia’s.  Rather than mandatory and elective subjects or tasks, South Carolina has nine objectives that the new lawyer must meet, including “establish[ing] a clear understanding as to the expectations of both the mentor and the new lawyer.”  The Uniform Mentoring Plan lists suggested means for achieving these objectives and acts as a guide for mentors and mentees to structure individual mentoring programs.

While mentoring programs have not existed for very long, participants have generally responded positively to the experience. Shapiro Research Group conducted a telephone survey at one-year intervals during Georgia’s two-year Pilot Project.  The survey revealed that about “approximately 85% of both the mentors and beginning lawyers rated the Pilot Project as satisfactory in varying degrees.”  The Committee on the Standards of the Profession noted that on professionalism measures, such as dealing with clients, the new lawyer’s self-perceptions of their skills matched the perceptions of their mentors.  Additionally, “the beginning lawyers’ rating of their ability to handle the ethical aspects of law practice increased consistently from the baseline over the course of the Pilot Project. This was also true for dealing with other lawyers, judges and court personnel.”

The Schapiro Survey also revealed that new lawyer’s self-perceptions were positive, and career satisfaction increased over the course of the Pilot Project.  At the end of the second year, “60% of the group rated themselves ‘very satisfied’ with their legal careers.”

So what do you think about these programs? Will mentoring be the new norm over the next decade?

Thank you to Lisa Alexander for helping with the background research on these programs.

3 Responses

  1. This is excellent information, Kevin. Have you had an opportunity to compare these mentoring programs with any of the required post-graduate programs for new law graduates in England, Germany, and other countries?

  2. Book-marked, I really like your blog! 🙂

  3. It is great to see other states follow Georgia’s lead in developing a structure for transitioning new lawyers into the practice. These mentoring programs continue the learning experience that was begun in law school. I also believe that the mentoring program creates a more welcoming introduction to a profession that can be challenging to newcomers.

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