Making Mentoring Work for Your Inn

The Bencher—January/February 2018

By Libby Bingham, CAE

Mentoring is a time honored legal tradition and a cornerstone of the American Inns of Court. While mentoring is not specifically mentioned in Inn governing documents, it is a natural by-product of the American Inns of Court structure and occurs inherently and organically in pupillage teams and Inn activities. As a result, every Inn should strive to have a robust, comprehensive, and codified mentoring program that continues to elevate the legal profession.

In January 2017, the American Inns of Court celebrated its first Mentoring Month by providing new resources, highlighting existing materials, and encouraging Inn members to share their mentoring stories. Many of these stories answered questions about the kind of mentoring happening within Inns, whether mentoring efforts are formal or ad hoc, if the programs are wildly successful or are they struggling, and what the national office can do to support Inns in their mentoring efforts.

A picture slowly emerged, one of amazing dedication to the American Inns of Court movement—mentoring in particular. Some Inns are finding mentoring easier than others, while some Inns have all the building blocks in place but haven’t pulled them all together. To ensure growth of the American Inns of Court movement, it is critical that every Inn have a commitment to mentoring that is carried on regardless of Inn leadership, or membership growth.

Elevating mentoring from an activity to a program takes thoughtful consideration and planning. The most important elements are frequency and intent:

Frequency—How often does the mentoring activity occur? Does it happen “whenever” or at regular intervals determined by the Inn?

Intent—Is it a planned mentoring-focused event or a by-product of another Inn activity such as a pupillage team ceating educational content or an Inn meeting dinner? Is there Inn-wide evaluation of the activity?

These guidelines do not mean that each mentoring program should or will look the same—there are many ways of doing things and personalities will dictate what works within the culture of an Inn.  For many years, the American Inns of Court has offered a model mentoring program that is a comprehensive approach to a formal, traditional pair mentoring program which served as the format for productive and healthy mentoring programs. This original model inspired an expansion of ways that Inns can look at mentoring. To get the process started, we have created four different models, one of which will hopefully be encouragement to start something new.

Traditional Mentoring Pairs Model

This program is designed to facilitate one-to-one mentoring pairs and to primarily engage students and Inn members with three or fewer years of experience. Members serving as mentors should have significant experience in practicing law, but could also apply to more experienced members in need of mentoring, younger members with new skill sets to share, or a mentoring structure that is integral to the development of educational programming.

Small Group Mentoring Model

This program is designed to facilitate smaller groups of three to four people who represent a wide variety of experience and career stages. With a group, there are more ways and opportunities to communicate, as well as more flexibility and shared responsibilities. Many people find it helpful to have a stable of people they go to for advice or information so their mentoring need per person is smaller. Additionally, with small groups, there are at least two people who can weigh in on a matter and offer advice or perspective.

Mentoring Activity-Focused Model

There are some Inns that do not have any matching for mentoring beyond their pupillage groups but are still considered to have a “formal” mentoring program due to building a culture of mentoring and having inculcated mentoring into their Inn meetings. Because these Inns have intentionally planned mentoring-focused activities throughout the year on a regular basis and have incorporated an evaluation, these efforts coalesce into a formal mentoring program.

Affiliated Mentoring Model

Some Inns do not have a mentoring program or activities because their local or state bar has a robust—and sometimes mandatory—program, in which their members participate. This model is a way to work in concert with existing state or local bar mentoring programs, a good approach for Inns whose members are already involved with such programs.

There is often “incidental” mentoring that happens as a result of pupillage teams meeting to create educational programs or during the social hour of a regular Inn meeting. While it is important—and encouraged—for this to happen, it is not enough to ensure that mentoring is taking place at a meaningful level within the Inn. Some Inns are poised to move their mentoring efforts and activities into a robust mentoring program simply by tweaking what they are doing and adding an evaluative component.  There is no need for a monumental overhaul to what is already happening; simply increasing both the intent and the frequency of mentoring activities will move an Inn forward.

As always, it is important to find what works for your Inn based on the culture of your Inn and the personality of your members. What works for one Inn may not work for another. It is important that Inns take a creative approach to mentoring to find a model that helps members feel they are getting the highest quality membership experience.

If you’d like to find out more about taking your Inn’s mentoring to the next level, please contact your Chapter Relations Director to find out how. You can also visit our website for a wide range of mentoring related resources.

Libby Bingham, CAE, is the Director of Education and Mentoring Programs for the American Inns of Court.

© 2018 American Inns of Court. This article was originally published in the January/February 2018 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the written consent of the American Inns of Court.