Mentoring: You Wouldn’t Be Here Without It

The Bencher—January/February 2018

By David R. Iglesias, Esquire

There is one moment that almost every lawyer has experienced. Whether we were eager young professionals stepping into our first real-world jobs or middle-aged folks bravely forging into a second career, we all remember that moment early in our legal careers when we finally realized that we did not know as much as we thought we did. That was the moment when we began to understand how much there was to learn about the practice of law and when we realized how far we still had to go if we wanted to become great lawyers.
For me, that realization came as I was sitting in my new office in a federal courthouse in West Texas. A mere two weeks earlier I had taken the bar exam and I was excited to begin what I knew would be the most fulfilling and gratifying experience of my professional career: a two-year clerkship with a federal district judge. The sun was shining on my face, the wind was at my back, and I was filled with optimism for my new venture. Then I realized I had so very much to learn.

Until that moment of realization, I had devoted only fleeting and abstract thought to the actual work I would be doing for Judge Sam R. Cummings. Much of my mental effort had been exerted in determining where to hang the two imperiously framed maps my fiancé (now wife) had given me as a gift to decorate my very first office. We both agreed that the maps were serious and intellectual and would convey a sense of gravitas to those walking into my new workspace. Now as I was sitting at my new desk in my new office staring at five cardboard boxes full of briefs and pleadings, the maps just intimidated me. Not only was I questioning my decisions regarding office decor, but staring at those boxes of pleadings made me realize how little I really knew about the job I was supposed to be doing.

At the precise moment that I felt the greatest sense of foreboding, Judge Cummings came into my office to offer his usual warm welcome. Luckily for me, he also offered something more lasting. Although I did not know it, he was prepared to serve as my mentor through the first confusing and crucial years of my legal career. Throughout my clerkship with him, Judge Cummings offered me professional advice, guidance, and friendship that exemplified the very best qualities of mentorship. At a time when I did not know enough to know that I needed a mentor, he was there with his wise counsel and helping hand. 

Those of us lucky enough to have had great mentors can see how those relationships shaped our careers and our personal lives. We look back on the tedious substantive and procedural questions answered by a telephone call or an email to our mentor, saving us hours of research and frustration. We can also reflect on the benefits of the professional and personal relationships that we would not have formed were it not for our mentors introducing us to others along the way. And as we mature as professionals and people, taking stock of our careers and how they were shaped by our mentors’ invaluable help, we discover in ourselves the desire to go forth and do likewise. Once we realize the need to help a young lawyer as we were once helped, the question then becomes how do we give something away that is so very intangible—so difficult even to describe? How does someone become a mentor?

Although there is no mentorship formula, there are a few steps we can take that will help us focus our efforts, pinpoint potential mentees, and guide young lawyers toward becoming credits to our profession.

Where do I start?

The first and most obvious step in becoming a mentor is finding a mentee. It sounds daunting, but logic will guide you to a good candidate. Start by looking around your office. There is likely a new associate, young partner, or law clerk who would benefit from your experience. If there is no one in your office who fits the bill, get in touch with your Inn of Court. Your Inn leadership will be more than happy to connect you with people who are eager to learn from you.

What do I have to teach someone?

As a member of the American Inns of Court, you have a lot to offer young lawyers who have not yet been taught the importance of professionalism in the practice of law. Whether or not you realize it, you are being watched by the young lawyers with whom you come in contact. Newly emerging lawyers are looking to older practitioners to learn professional civility, courtesy, and ethical conduct. Whether consciously or subconsciously, they will emulate the way you treat others and the way you run your practice. Someone, somewhere is following your lead.

As a member of the American Inns of Court, you are already aspiring to excellence in professionalism and the practice of law. According to the American Inns of Court Professional Creed, you have dedicated yourself to practicing law with “dignity, civility, and courtesy” and valuing your “integrity above all.” Regardless of the depth of your relationship, emerging lawyers who see you practicing law according to these principles will be positively affected. When young lawyers follow your example of professionalism as it is taught by the American Inns of Court, the legal profession will be better for it. 

It’s who you know.

As you start to think about valuable experiences for your mentee, don’t forget about the importance of networking. In some ways, the social component of a mentor-mentee relationship is just as valuable to your mentee as your wisdom. Your mentee will benefit greatly from connecting with and learning from your professional—and personal—network.

Impress upon your mentee the importance of public service.

Finally, remember to introduce your mentee to the age-old tradition of attorneys donating their time and talents to public service. For as long as there has been a legal profession, lawyers have worked diligently to help people and make their communities better places to live. A great way to start is by introducing your mentee to a pro bono legal clinic. Carry on this great tradition of public service, and teach new lawyers how important it is for them to do the same.

Although most of us can remember feeling lost at some point at the beginning of our practice, most of us can also remember a wise, more experienced lawyer or judge coming alongside and offering guidance in our career paths. Seize every opportunity to do the same. Your efforts will pay off with a stronger, more civil, and more ethical legal profession. u

David R. Iglesias, Esquire, is the principle of Iglesias Law Firm, PLLC, in Tyler, Texas. He is a member of the Honorable T. John Ward AIC in Kilgore, Texas.

© 2018 David R. Iglesias, Esquire. 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.