TBA Law Blog

Posted by: Robert Morgan on Feb 1, 2015

Journal Issue Date: Feb 2015

Journal Name: February 2015 - Vol. 51, No. 2

Profession and Participants Benefit from Mentoring

What could a children’s book have to say about mentoring, you may be thinking, much less mentoring in the legal profession? Well, to that question I defer to one of the primary antagonists in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,[1] the Duchess, and her simple, reassuring words:

“Tut, tut, child!” said the Duchess. “Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.”
And with that introduction, dear friends, I invite you to join me as we go down the rabbit hole ….
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where —“said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“— so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Throughout history, the legal profession has been the source of most of the leaders in our society.[2] Our profession has produced the majority of our presidents and, over the past 50 years, half of the members of Congress.[3] Ten percent of our largest 500 companies are led by lawyer CEOs.[4] Lawyers serve as state legislators and judges, heads of government agencies, managing partners of law firms, general counsel, prosecutors and public defenders.[5] Members of the legal profession provide day-to-day leadership for their churches, other social and charitable groups, campaigns, committees and countless other groups and organizations.[6]

For many years, public perception of lawyers has been low.[7] While that low perception may not be justified for the hundreds of hardworking and dedicated lawyers who serve this community, we as a profession must recognize the harm that perception can create.[8] As lawyers, our integrity, reputation and competency must always be above reproach.[9] We must choose to serve as leaders within our profession and in service to government and community.[10]

The preamble to The Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct for Lawyers states: “A lawyer is an expert in law pursuing a learned art in service to clients and in the spirit of public service as part of a common calling to promote justice and public good.”[11]

As a profession, we must constantly find ways to re-energize our efforts to promote justice and public good.[12] With an increased focus on developing attorneys who exemplify these traits, our community will see the benefit in our economy, government and in public service.[13]

One Way to Intentionally Choose Your Path

As seen in the dialogue between Alice and the cat, however, we need to choose this path deliberately and intentionally; otherwise, we will walk and walk and eventually end up “somewhere.” One such mechanism to intentionally choose our path is by participating in mentoring relationships.

In recent years, formal mentoring programs have been gaining popularity in the legal profession. “Surveys and evaluations of [large legal service providers, both private and public], local, firm and law school programs find that mentoring is a valuable tool in the professional development of lawyers.”[14] In addition, “[i]t is cost-effective, increases satisfaction with practice, reduces mistakes and reduces attrition in firms.”[15] Thus, as discussed more fully below, with such beneficial outcomes, creation of and participation in mentoring programs should be strongly considered to better individual legal professionals and the legal profession as a whole.

An individual known as a “Mentor” first appeared in Homer’s Odyssey.[16,17] Mentor, a friend and advisor of Odysseus, raised Odysseus’s son Telemachus after Odysseus sailed off to Troy. When it came time for Telemachus to search for his father Odysseus, the goddess Athena disguised herself as Mentor and accompanied him on a quest. Now, more than 2,500 years after Mentor’s first appearance in The Odyssey, we use his name to describe “a trusted counselor or guide.”[18] Of course, although the concept of a mentor has existed for thousands of years, “intentional and organized efforts to foster mentor relationships in the legal workplace date back only three or four decades.”[19] Since the advent of these organized efforts, mentoring has become “a verb referring to a process.”[20]

Mentoring fosters “an intimate relationship between an experienced person and a less experienced person — note that true mentoring relationships have less do to with seniority and more to do with experience — and involves active participation in another’s [professional development].”[21] Research also suggests that mentoring “makes mentees more likely to focus on ongoing [professional] development.”[22] Indeed, mentoring can aid law students, new attorneys, and more senior attorneys alike in developing their professionalism and professional identity by providing them with examples and role models. “A role model in a professional context sets an example of excellence by modeling the technical knowledge [legal skills] and relationship skills necessary for the professional role. Role modeling by a mentor thus substantially influences how a [mentee] learns the relationship skills and applied knowledge necessary for professional competence.”[23]

Mentoring can thus help law students, recent graduates, members of the bar eligible for young lawyers division, as well as members of the bar that — due to experience — are no longer required to complete CLE hours,[24] to navigate new aspects of the law and professionalism successfully.

“I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, who in the world am I? Ah, THAT’S the great puzzle!” — Alice

We enter law school. We make it through law school — admittedly with varying degrees of success. We enter the profession. We join a firm. We start our own practice. We join another firm. We join a company. We take the bench. We serve in office. We pursue a new area of expertise. The circumstances in our professional journeys in which we could benefit from a mentor are myriad. As we explore this question posed by Alice, let us keep in mind that the benefits of participating in a mentoring relationship are well established.

“In the context of workplace mentoring relationships, studies have demonstrated that effective mentoring facilitates job satisfaction and dedication in the mentees.”[25] “Most mentoring research has focused on career outcomes for mentees and has found a positive relationship between the presence of a mentor and career outcomes in terms of promotions and salaries. In addition to these tangible metrics, additional studies have found that mentees report more career satisfaction, commitment to their profession, and greater expectations for their profession.”[26] The appeal of some of these benefits is more readily apparent than others. For example, who among us would not want to experience the benefits of objective career success? But in the pursuit of such success let us not forget the powerful impact that can be seen as we experience increased career satisfaction, increased dedication to the legal profession, and increased expectations for the legal profession as a whole. These latter benefits are particularly important in light of consistent research and studies that indicate that those in the legal profession are much more likely to experience the challenges accompanied by substance abuse, familial instability, and job dissatisfaction.[27] If participation in mentoring relationships can help to ameliorate such negative findings, that alone should be sufficient impetus to consider participating in mentoring relationships.

Win-Win: Mentors Benefit, Too

“Sure,” you may say, “the benefits to mentees are obvious, but what about mentors? Isn’t participation in such relationships just a drain on their time?” Research indicates that mentors also benefit from mentoring programs, as being a mentor “requires lawyers to stay up to date on developments in the law and think more clearly about what they do and why.”[28] Teaching skills to mentees helps mentors to better learn the skills themselves. Additionally, being a mentor can help to boost a lawyer’s reputation in the community and even advance that lawyer’s career because successful mentees of that lawyer — if in that lawyer’s organization — will show that the lawyer can both identify and develop talent, and mentees of that lawyer — if outside of the mentor’s organization — will become loyal fans and referral sources for the mentor.[29] Additionally, and in the current economic climate, offering opportunities for junior attorneys within a law firm to be mentored decreases the attrition rate of junior lawyers.

Retention of female and minority attorneys is an area where the benefits of mentoring are seen with even greater acuity. Research demonstrates that “female lawyers with [strong mentors] had higher compensation and career progress satisfaction than those without mentors, and were more likely to be partners or hold senior executive positions than women without mentors.”[30] Additionally, research shows that those who self-identify as minorities that participate in mentoring programs report a more positive view of the legal profession and more dedication to their organization and to the profession —with statistical significance — over their non-minority counterparts.[31]

Moreover, senior attorneys can view mentoring as part of the rules of ethics. For example, Tennessee Rule of Professional Conduct 5.1 states that “[a] lawyer having direct supervisory authority over another lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the other lawyer conforms to the Rules of Professional Conduct.”[32] Mentoring can serve as a “prophylactic function in protecting firms and supervising attorneys from a junior attorney’s ethical breaches.”[33] A junior attorney with a mentor would likely be more willing to approach the mentor with a possible ethical violation than a junior attorney with no mentor.[34] Mentoring could also speed the junior attorney’s development of ethical and practical legal skills, which would reduce the amount of time that the attorney is most likely to commit unintentional ethical breaches.[35]

Anecdotally, the feedback provided by mentors who participate in formal mentoring programs provides additional insight into why a more experienced attorney may desire to become involved in mentoring:

  • “Program provides students [and new lawyers] with experiences that they cannot get in the classroom. [It educates them] on the practical aspects of our judicial and legal system and how we can improve it.”
  • “Mentoring made me reflect on my practice and how I could improve it.”
  • “I enjoyed being around enthusiastic young people.”
  • “It is gratifying to pass on what I learned in practice.”
  • “Acting as a mentor showed me how much my knowledge, skills, and confidence have increased since I was a new lawyer. It confirmed for me that I knew a few things about the practice of law and that I could do it well.” [36]

As seen above, participation in mentoring relationships yields benefits to all involved. This may be particularly true for law students and new attorneys given the fact that they are facing the profession — with all its nuances and subtleties — for the first time.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “otherwise you wouldn’t have come here.”

The legal profession is much maligned, and participants in the same may be accused of being “mad.” For some that may be, admittedly, an appropriate label. However, it need not be so, despite many law students and new lawyers feeling that their worlds have been turned upside down. Mentoring can help the law students and new lawyers get their bearings.

Law Students

Law school “is the place and time where expert knowledge and judgment are communicated from advanced practitioner to beginner. It is where the profession puts its defining values and exemplars on display, and future practitioners can begin both to assume and critically examine their future identities,” according to a report from the Carnegie Foundation.[37] “Unquestionably, an important mission of law schools must be the teaching of professionalism and the setting of proper role models for law students,” an American Bar Association report points out. “If there is a lack of adequate role models in law schools, lawyers may begin practice with little sense of the responsibilities to a client and to society inherent in a professional relationship[.]”[38]

The Carnegie report agrees: “Continuing and growing lawyer discipline problems suggest that law schools can and should address professionalism and character[;] [a]s a matter of notice and common sense, law practice cannot be the first time that a lawyer takes to heart the duty toward maintaining the integrity of the profession.”[39]

In addition to clinical and pro bono opportunities, the Carnegie report suggests that law students engage in reflection on their own values and ethics and the development of their professional identities; substantively, and to this end, law schools can offer mentoring opportunities that provide “interpersonal environments and experiences which serve to permit the law student the opportunity to communicate and reflect upon the necessary legal, social and interpersonal skills to acquire and maintain healthy working, familial and social relationships in balance with one another.”[40] Formal mentoring programs may be a tool to facilitate these learning and growth opportunities.

The mental well-being of law students is — or should be in this author’s view — a matter of importance to those of us in the legal profession. Given that the data indicate that incidents of harmful mental health exist in a much higher rate among law students is a matter not to be taken lightly, especially in light of “[t]he results of at least one study [that] suggest[s] that law students report suffering from depression at a much higher rate than the general population, peaking during the third year at 40 percent of the law school population, while the general public hovers around 10 percent.”[41] At least one law school mentoring program in Tennessee has explored the impact of mentoring on such findings. This was done by replicating the aforementioned study, but including an additional question to the original survey: “Please check this box if you have participated in the mentoring program this year.”

The results of this 82-question survey were then analyzed, comparing the data between students who participated in the mentoring program and those who did not. The results demonstrate that students who engage in the mentoring program experience a tangible difference in their attitudes, views and goals. Not surprisingly, the mentoring program overwhelmingly impacted the students’ views, attitudes and goals in a positive fashion (e.g., “In uncertain times I expect the best” and “in the future [it will be] important to help those who need help”). Such positive results indicate that law student participation in mentoring programs can positively impact the future of the profession.

New Lawyers

“The diminishing relevance of the apprenticeship model in today’s legal arena has led law firms to find alternative ways to develop attorneys. Some firms use the ‘sheep dip’ approach — offering formal group training programs in-house for all attorneys, led by outside consultants who focus on specific topics, such as writing or etiquette.”[42] Coaching is more time-consuming and expensive than the one-size-fits-all sheep dip, but researchers are finding that people learn better with this approach for a variety of reasons.[43]

As John Medina notes in his book Brain Rules,

“people comprehend complex knowledge at different times and different depths.” An all-firm course on improving writing skills, for example, won’t necessarily be effective because (1) the members of the group will have widely varying levels of writing competence, (2) each participant has a different preferred method of learning, and (3) each participant has a different knowledge gap. One-on-one or small group coaching allows the facilitator to adjust the content or format of the coaching session to the specific needs of the individual(s).[44]

Additionally, Dr. Larry Richard has found that attorneys traditionally score high on personality traits such as skepticism (I know, you’re currently questioning those results) and autonomy and low on traits like sociability.[45] Coaching requires attorneys to take the lead and find their own solutions to the work challenges that they face by asking in-depth, individualized questions. This approach reduces the skepticism and resistance inherent in one-size-fits-all solutions that have been crafted by others without regard to the individual lawyer’s needs.

How You Can Get Involved

“I think I could, if I only know how to begin,” [thought Alice]. For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.

With such substantial benefits to be found in engaging in mentoring relationships, hopefully you are asking yourself the questions: “What makes a successful mentoring relationship?” and “How do I become involved in a mentoring relationship?”

First and foremost it should be noted that the “most effective mentoring relationships develop when both mentors and [mentees] approach the relationship with positive attitudes.”[46] This includes, for the mentees, being open and receptive to a mentor’s assistance.[47] For the mentor, this includes viewing the role of mentor as a privilege and responsibility.[48] Once the parties are in the position to approach the relationship in the right frame of mind, the next consideration becomes characteristics of successful mentors and mentees.

Key attributes of a mentor are: modeling, confidence building, coaching, counseling.[49] Moreover, “[t]he successful mentor understands that the job is not to mold the [mentee] into the mentor’s own image, but rather to allow [mentees] to achieve professional maturity on their own.”[50]

Key attributes of a mentee are: initiative, goals setting, receptivity, appreciation.[51]

Shared attributes include empathy, communication, commitment and trustworthiness.[52] Common attributes of successful formal programs are: leadership’s commitment, clearly articulated objectives, program parameters, procedure for matching, program coordinator, training, ongoing support and monitoring, evaluation procedure, incentives for mentoring.[53]

Successful mentoring programs for “millenials”[54] often include “group” mentoring sessions where one mentor and mentee will typically host a discussion forum for a group of several mentees, or where a topic is presented by a particular mentor and then posted online for viewing remotely.[55]

When it comes to getting involved in a mentoring relationship, there are several ways to do so.

Of course, there is the traditional method of two or more individuals naturally gravitating to work with each other on professional development because of shared affinities for particularly substantive areas, values or goals. Research demonstrates that such informal mentoring relationships bear the most fruit and have the largest positive impact on the participants. That same research indicates, however, that such mentoring relationships are few and far between. If you are one of the lucky ones to have such a relationship, take a moment to call your mentor or mentee and thank them for the role they play in your professional development. Go ahead, call; we will wait.

CLE?Credit Now Available

In the event that you do not find yourself in an informal mentoring relationship — or, you wisely want to become involved in additional mentoring relationships — there are several organizations throughout the state of Tennessee that sponsor mentoring programs. The Tennessee Bar Association is one such entity (see sidebar). A visit to the TBA’s website can provide you with details on how to get involved.[56] Likewise there are several bar associations on more local levels that sponsor such programs.

Recently the Tennessee Supreme Court opened up an additional avenue to become involved in mentoring programs. “In an effort to provide beginning lawyers with access to more resources and to encourage seasoned attorneys to take new lawyers under their wings,” the court wrote in a press release, “the organization that runs Tennessee’s continuing legal education program has established a new formal mentoring program. The program will pair attorneys with less than three years of experience [or law students] with those that are more established in the practice of law. Both attorneys will get continuing legal education (CLE) credit for their efforts.”[57]

A critical element of the CLE program is the participation of sponsoring organizations, which will develop mentoring plans, assign mentors and oversee progress.[58] There are multiple local bar associations, law schools and professional organizations that have developed, or are working toward developing local programs as sponsoring organizations.[59] A list of approved programs can be found by visiting the CLE Commission’s website.[60]

In order to receive CLE credit for participating in an approved program, an attorney must first participate in training offered through the commission. Information about the training, including dates and locations, can be found on its website.[61] Take note that to become a certified mentor attorney under that program you must meet the certain criteria.

CLE credit for participation in an approved mentoring program is currently available by a recent (July 1, 2014) order of the Tennessee Supreme Court up to and including Dec. 31, 2016. At that time the court will evaluate the results of the mentoring order.

The Benefits Are Clear

“I could tell you my adventures — beginning from this morning,” said Alice a little timidly: “but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

The benefits of mentoring are clear. Mentoring advances the professional careers of the mentees and mentors, while simultaneously improving the profession as a whole.
Heed this good advice from a recent publication about solo law practice:

Pair up.
Work together.
Learn from each other.
Nothing else can accomplish the same results.[62]

As we engage in mentoring relationships we, like Alice, will not go back to where we’ve been because we will be different people — for the better.


  1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (commonly shortened to Alice in Wonderland) is an 1865 novel written by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. The plot concerns a young girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world inhabited by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures. The book explores themes of logic, morals and worldviews, giving the story popularity with adults as well as with children. Many authorities consider this work to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre. Its narrative course, structure, characters, and imagery have influenced other literary works, and frequent pop culture references (in addition to bar journal articles) cite to this work.
  2. Doug Blaze, “From the Dean,” Tennessee Law, Fall 2013 at http://law.utk.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Tenn-Law-Fall13-FINAL.pdf).
  3. Id.
  4. Id.
  5. Id.
  6. Id.
  7. Judge Deborah Stevens, “Profession, Community Benefits from Leadership Training,” Knoxville News Sentinel, Dec. 2, 2013 at http://www.knoxnews.com/business/profession-community-benefits-from-leadership.
  8. Id.
  9. Id.
  10. Id.
  11. Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8, Rules of Professional Conduct Preamble at http://www.tsc.state.tn.us/rules/supreme-court/8.
  12. Stevens, supra note 6.
  13. Id.
  14. Lori L. Keating & John E. Montgomery, “Innovative Thinking: How to Build a Highly Effective Mentoring Program,” 76 Tex. B.J. 201, 203 (2013).
  15. Id.
  16. Homer, The Odyssey (Penguin Books 2002).
  17. Many thanks and recognition are owed to 2014 University of Tennessee College of Law graduate Amy Michelle Bergamo, whose work on her directed research paper, “General Effect of Mentoring,” enriched the conversation of the history of mentoring and its impact in a significant way. A copy of this paper is on file with the author.
  18. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 776 (11th ed. 2003).
  19. Neil Hamilton & Lisa Montpetit Brabbit, “Fostering Professionalism Through Mentoring,” 57 J. Legal Educ. 102, 106 (2007).
  20. Id.
  21. Carlo A. Pedrioli, “A New Image in the Looking Glass: Faculty Mentoring, Invitational Rhetoric and the Second-Class Status of Women in U.S. Academia,” 15 Hastings Women’s L.J. 185, 199 (2004) (internal quotation marks omitted).
  22. “Hard Number Measures of Mentoring,” 10-6 Compensation & Benefits for L. Off. 2 (June 2010).
  23. Hamilton & Montpetit Brabbit, supra note 3, at 109.
  24. Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 21 Section 2.04(a) provides that attorneys that have obtained the age of 65 may be exempted from mandatory Continuing Legal Education at http:// www.tsc.state.tn.us/rules/supreme-court/21.
  25. Terri A. Scandura, “Mentorship and Career Mobility: An Empirical Investigation,” Journal of Organizational Behavior, Vol. 13 (1992); see also George F. Dreher and Ronald A. Ash, “A Comparative Study of Mentoring Among Men and Women in Managerial, Professional and Technical Positions,” Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 75, No. 5 (1990).
  26. Belle R. Ragins and Kathy E. Kram, The Handbook of Mentoring at Work: Theory, Research and Practice 7-8 (Sage 2007).
  27. Patrick Shiltz, “Those Unhappy, Unhealthy Lawyers,” Notre Dame Magazine (August 1999).
  28. Ida O. Abbott, The Lawyer’s Guide to Mentoring 33 (NALP 2000).
  29. See id. at 50.
  30. Barbara M. Flom & Stephanie A. Scharf, “Report of the Sixth Annual National Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women Lawyers in Law Firms,” NAWL Foundation and the National Associate of Women Lawyers (2011); A. Ramaswami, G.F., Dreher, R. Bretz & C. Wiethoff, “The Interactive Effects of Gender and Mentoring on Career Attainment: Making the Case for Female Lawyers,” 37 Journal of Career Development, 692 (2010).
  31. Morgan, B., “Metrics in Formal Mentoring Programs for Graduate/Professional Students,” in Dominguez, N. and Gandert, Y. (Eds.), 6th Annual Mentoring Conference Proceedings: Impact & Effectiveness of Developmental Relationship, Albuquerque, NM, University of New Mexico (October 2013).
  32. Tenn. R. Prof. Conduct 5.1 (Rule 5.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct contains identical language).
  33. Daniel D. Barnhizer, “Mentoring as Duty and Privilege,” Mich. B.J., January 2003, at 46.
  34. See id.
  35. Id.
  36. Evaluation comments from participants in various mentoring programs on file with the author.
  37. William M. Sullivan, Anne Colby, Judith Welch Wegner, Lloyd Bond, Lee S. Shulman, Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 2007).
  38. “In the Spirit of Public Service: A Blueprint for the Rekindling of Lawyer Professionalism” (Report of the Commission on Professionalism to the Board of Governors and the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association), 112 F.R.D. 243, 268-70 (1986).
  39. Carnegie Report, supra Note 37.
  40. Id.
  41. Kennon M. Sheldon and Lawrence S. Krieger, “Does Legal Education Have Undermining Effects on Law Students? Evaluating Changes in Motivation, Values, and Well-Being,” 22 Behav. Sci. & Law 261 (2004).
  42. Thompson Reuters White Paper, “The Value of Coaching in the Law Firm” (2009) available at http://ms-jd.org/uploads/general/White_Paper.pdf.
  43. Id.
  44. John Medina, Brain Rules (Pear Press 2008).
  45. Larry R. Richard,“Herding Cats: The Lawyer Personality Revealed,” http://www.managingpartnerforum.org/tasks/sites/mpf/assets/image/MPF%20-%20WEBSITE%20-%20ARTICLE%20-%20Herding%20Cats%20-%20Richards1.pdf.
  46. Belle R. Ragins and Kathy E. Kram, The Handbook of Mentoring at Work: Theory, Research, and Practice 30-31 (Sage 2007).
  47. Id.
  48. Id.
  49. Id.
  50. Jack W. Burtch Jr., “The Mentor Challenge in Changing Times,” Experience, Fall 2004, at 10, 14.
  51. Id.
  52. Id.
  53. Id.
  54. Millenials are most often described as being born between 1985 and the early 2000s.
  55. Id.
  56. https://www.tba.org/programs/the-tba-mentoring-program.
  57. http://www.cletn.com/index.php/mentoring-press-release.
  58. Id.
  59. Supra, note 57.
  60. http://www.cletn.com/index.php/general-information/mentoring/sponsoring-organizations
  61. http://www.cletn.com/index.php/general-information/mentoring/requirements-standards.
  62. “Lifeguarding Lawyers: New Solos Need More Than a Mentor,” Solo, Small Firm & General Practice Division GP Solo, Vol. 29, No. 5 at http:// www.americanbar.org/publications/gp_solo/2012/september_october/lifeguarding_lawyers_new_solos_need_more_than_mentor.html.

Brad Morgan serves as associate director at the Institute for Professional Leadership at the University of Tennessee College of Law, where he received his law degree in 2005 and his master of business administration in 2014. He is chair of the Law School Subcommittee of the Tennessee Bar Association Access to Justice Committee and was honored in 2014 as the Tennessee Justice Center’s Pro Bono Attorney of the Year. For information about UT’s mentoring program, contact Morgan at rmorgan2@utk.edu.