Why Mentor?

Covington lawyer J. Houston Gordon guesses he has mentored 15 to 20 young lawyers over the years since being licensed to practice in 1970, after graduating from the University of Tennessee College of Law.

“I have been richly blessed,” he says. “I have received more than I have provided. When we give, we always end up receiving more than we gave away.” We asked him more about mentoring and its benefits:

TBJ: Why did you mentor Amber?
HG: It is, unfortunately, rare, although gratifying, when a young person honestly asks one more seasoned to share what experience has taught. Amber was very direct in her request. She quickly demonstrated that she sincerely wished to learn. After seeing that, I committed to trying to help. I hope I have.

TBJ: Do you feel law schools are preparing students to practice as soon as they graduate? If not, how does mentoring fill the gap?
HG: No, but I don’t wish to be hypercritical of established legal education. To me, it seems that too much emphasis is placed on law as a business, not as a profession. Students seem to be taught well how to analyze legal rules and principles of law in order to manipulate and play, “Gotcha,” rather than understanding. As officers of the court and guardians of ideal of justice, rules and law are to be used to achieve justice, not just to win by gamesmanship. I well know what it is and how to be a “legal gunslinger,” but, too often, I recognize serious deficits in honesty, integrity and professionalism among young lawyers. Perhaps internships are needed.

TBJ: Why do you think it is important for a more seasoned lawyer to mentor a younger one?
HG: Why should every generation be required to “remake the wheel?” Why not learn from others’ failures and successes? If society is to make progress, should we not try to avoid repeating the same mistakes and errors of the past?

TBJ: What did you learn from the experience?
HG: It was reaffirming to know that there are still young people of high integrity, considerable ability and good hearts, who sincerely want to help others — especially those who are left out and left behind, the injured, maimed and forgotten, those against whom the most powerful forces of society and government are aligned — they need champions. When they have them, we are all the better for it.

TBJ: Is mentoring a different experience than it used to be?
HG: The basic traits of humankind do not really change — we all seem to have this tremendous urge to serve the “kingdom of self,” instead of others. When good ones come along, however, the good they do is evident and the experience is intensely rewarding.

TBJ: What was the best part of the process for you?
HG: Watching each grow, mature, succeed and contribute to make the world a better, more just place –– at least the world where they are.

TBJ: What was the most difficult?
HG: The most difficult part was the time commitment. It is hard to help when one is fatigued.

TBJ: What advice would you give other seasoned lawyers about the benefits of mentoring?
HG: None. It is a choice each of us must make. How does one spend the brief time he/she has on earth? I find it rewarding to be able to pass on what others taught me and what can be learned from my personal experiences over nearly five decades as a trial lawyer, both the successes and, more importantly, from my failures.

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