program launched

Issue September 2011 By Christina P. O'Neill

The Massachusetts Bar Association has launched a new professional development program that is intended to benefit both mentors and mentees. The MBA is currently looking for members at all professional levels to form one group in each of the 14 Massachusetts counties, of eight to 12 persons each, to meet quarterly beginning this month.

MBA Mentoring Circles will combine varying professional levels together, providing all members, whether experience or recently graduated, with the 
resources they need to develop and improve their management and leadership skills and grow within the profession. The desired professional mix of an individual group would include two to three senior level attorneys, one retired judge or attorney, and five to eight attorneys who have practiced for 10 years or less.

The MBA's research shows that mentoring groups are a growing trend, says Laura Marcello, MBA's membership marketing manager. Their mission differs from referral clubs; instead, it's to create an environment in which any member can ask a question of which they fear they should already know the answer. "It's a bigger discussion," she says. "Chances are someone will have had a similar experience." Members must commit to giving advice and support, and must respect member confidentiality.

"It's a very important initiative," says MBA immediate Past President Denise Squillante, because of the most difficult hiring climate in decades for new lawyers. Citing recent press reports of two law schools being sued by graduates who allege that the schools inflated post-graduate employment and salary statistics, she says Mentoring Circles is the MBA's response to the employment crisis. "It's a much-needed lifeline, because unemployed new lawyers are setting up practices when they had no intention of doing so while in law school."

To help them develop their practice-management skills, Mentoring Circle members will provide support and encouragement in a confidential setting, allowing both the mentor and the mentee to establish important lifelong connections.

"It's getting people to meet people," Squillante says. "One of the reasons I became so involved with the [Massachusetts] Bar Association is that the practice of law was so isolating." A private practice attorney with decades of experience, she says she enjoys private practice but she's aware of the pitfalls it holds for some - especially newcomers without a foothold in their communities.

The isolation is increasing, she says. Before the implementation of Rule 9a, for example, lawyers had to go to Superior Court to file a motion. "There'd be tons of lawyers there, you'd be chatting with them, and get to meet all the lawyers in your community." Now, motions are done in writing, without the need for a trip to court. Additionally, the growth in numbers of pro se litigants has resulted in fewer lawyers in the courts, she says.

Add to that the number of hours attorneys spend in their offices working on computers, and it creates a gulf. "This will provide a mechanism to really break the ice," Squillante says. "They have an opportunity to be in an environment that will assist them and take the edge off the stresses of the practice of law."

Mentoring Circles won't just benefit newer practitioners, however. "Many older lawyers tell me they might go to court and see new faces, but they don't know who they are. So for the older [lawyer] who wants to lend a helping hand, this provides a mechanism to meet younger [attorneys]. … Especially if you have a case and all of a sudden a lawyer enters an appearance on the case, if you know who that person is, you can develop a rapport."

Member benefits are envisioned as follows:

Newly admitted lawyers: Ensure preparedness for the responsible practice of law and confirm commitment to professionalism. Provide networking tools that will result in business contact growth.

Senior-level attorneys and retired judges and attorneys: Provide development tools through peer mentoring, as well as offering new viewpoints on the practice and business of law. Provide networking tools that will result in business contact growth.

Participants in Mentoring Circles can choose their meeting site; it could be a nearby restaurant, coffee house or other location. The Mentoring Circles are also expected to encourage more participation by attorneys in the communities they serve, as well as to offer them a way to become more active within the MBA.