OSB Professional Liability Fund

New Lawyer Mentoring Program

August 25, 2017
by Rachel Edwards

A batch of newly minted lawyers will be inducted into the bar this October. The Oregon State Bar New Lawyer Mentoring Program is a valuable resource for newly admitted members of the bar. As many lawyers have experienced, law school curriculums are often not geared toward preparing their graduates for the practice of law. Even with the advent of programs such as clinics and classes taught by practicing lawyers, new admittees often feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Due to the recession, many new lawyers found it difficult to not only find work, but to create mentoring relationships in the community. The bar created the New Lawyer Mentoring Program with the ultimate goal of providing personalized guidance to new members as they enter the legal world. The program emphasizes a flexible approach in which the bar provides mentors and new lawyers with a set of requirements, yet with a significant number of options for completion tailored to the new lawyer. It seeks to promote professionalism, civility, and collegiality by introducing new members of the bar to the legal community. It also guides them through the transition from law school to law practice, particularly helping them to develop the practical skills and judgment necessary to establish a successful and professional practice.

Launched in 2011, participation is mandatory for all bar members admitted after January 1, 2011. New lawyers must enroll in the program within twenty-eight (28) days of admission unless he or she meets criteria for exemption or deferral. Exemption applies if the new lawyer is admitted through reciprocity or having practiced in another jurisdiction for at least twenty-four (24) months. Deferral applies if he or she is serving as a judicial clerk or is otherwise not actively engaged in the practice of law in Oregon; once either of those change, the lawyer must enroll in the program. New lawyers may recruit a mentor, such as their employer or a colleague, or the bar makes the match. The bar matches mentors with lawyers based on certain criteria like location and practice area. If matching is delayed by the bar, the lawyer is not in danger of noncompliance. The deadline to complete is not determined until an assignment is made. The mentor must be a member in good standing and have at least five (5) years of experience in the practice of law. New lawyers typically must complete the requirements within 12-18 months from the assignment date on either May 31 or December 31 of that year. Average time commitment for the mentor is at least one 90-minute meeting per month for a total of 18-24 hours in a year. Mentors receive continuing legal education credits upon completion of the program.

Requirements

The program covers six curriculum areas. The flexibility in meeting the requirements leaves it up to the mentor and the new lawyer to determine the most beneficial approach.

  1. Introduction to the legal community, public service and bar service
    • Ex. Introduce the new lawyer to other lawyers in the community and discussing expected etiquette and behavior.
  2. Rules of professional conduct and standards of professionalism
    • Ex. Review the rules of professional conduct and standards of professionalism.
  3. Introduction to law office management
    • Ex. Discuss the most frequent issues arising in ethics complaints and malpractice claims and suggestions for avoiding them, such as improved timekeeping and calendaring systems.
  4. Working with clients
    • Ex. Discuss the importance of maintaining good client relations and suggestions for how to do so or review and discuss the support available to new lawyers and their families through the OAAP and PLF.
  5. Career satisfaction and work/life balance
    • Ex. Discuss how to handle professional and personal relationships and where to turn for support if problems arise.
  6. Practical skills activities
    • This requires the mentor and new lawyer to identify any ten (10) practice area activities that support the goals of the new lawyer, includes things like review of applicable law in that practice area, drafting documents, attending hearings and trials, and meeting judges.
The bar also encourages mentors and new lawyers to broaden the curriculum and be creative in their discussions and activities. Examples may include discussing proper listserve etiquette or suggestions for developing good relationships with clients and court staff. Upon completion, the mentor must submit the mentoring plan checklist and completion certificate to the bar, along with a $100 program fee.

Lawyers who qualify to act as a mentor are encouraged to participate. It can be easy to forget the difficulties that come with being a new lawyer. We are often prone to creating and maintaining a circle of friends and colleagues with similar backgrounds and experiences. Being a mentor provides an opportunity to share your wisdom and experience, make connections with lawyers from a different generation and background, and likely learn something from the new lawyer along the way. Below are suggestions for both mentors and new lawyers for how to take advantage of this opportunity:

            Mentors. Create a safe environment for new lawyers so they feel able to ask questions they may feel embarrassed to ask otherwise. A good mentor invites new lawyers into the legal community by not only fulfilling their duties in accordance with the program, but acting as a resource, sharing his or her experiences, and introducing the new lawyer to other lawyers and judges throughout the community.

            New lawyers. Set a regular schedule and be respectful of your mentor’s time.  Do not be afraid to discuss a challenging situation or ask questions even if you think you should know the answer. Think of the program as an opportunity to learn from another lawyer’s experiences.

Both mentors and new lawyers also need to keep in mind their ethical responsibilities when completing the program, such as the duty of confidentiality. For a discussion regarding frequently asked ethics questions received from mentors and new lawyers, see an article written by OSB general counsel Amber Hollister and PLF staff attorney Emilee Preble.

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