Presidents Column:Mentoring Makes a Difference
I am very pleased to report that the Dallas Bar Association was honored to receive the State Bar of Texas Award of Merit for having the best overall programs. This is the highest award a bar association can receive from the State Bar. We also received the Partnership Award from the American Bar Association for the Diversity Summit we hosted in October of 2012. The ABA committee said the program demonstrated the longstanding commitment of the DBA to a diverse legal profession and our continuing efforts to grow and sustain the pipeline of diverse professionals. Kudos to 2012 DBA President Paul Stafford whose vision created the Diversity Summit and to 2004 DBA President Rhonda Hunter who chaired the program committee, as well as all of those who served on the committee. I am happy to report that we also received awards for six Headnotes articles in the areas of professionalism, volunteerism and substantive family law issues. Of course this is not the first time that our bar has received recognition for its many outstanding programs and publications.
What makes the Dallas Bar such an outstanding organization? Is it the members, the leadership, the staff, the programs? Or is it something that all of these have in common? I would argue that it is the willingness of our members, leadership and staff to support, trust, teach, develop, respect, befriend and help each other through personal relationships and programs that make the DBA an award winning organization. In other words, the willingness to mentor and be mentored by others makes all the difference.
To appreciate how and why mentoring has such a positive influence on our organization, we need to consider what mentoring is and what it does. A mentoring program or relationship is designed to help develop professional skills; to provide an opportunity for sharing knowledge and understanding; to foster the development of leadership skills, ethical behavior and self confidence; to help an individual raise awareness of his or her potential and opportunities; to help determine personal values and goals; and develop a sense of purpose and belonging to a group or organization. I am sure others could come up with a better list of what defines mentoring, but these are the things that come to my mind when I think of the mentor relationships I have had over the years, both as a mentor and as a mentee. In fact, as I think back, it is sometimes difficult for me to distinguish between my role and benefit as the mentor or the mentee in those relationships. It is definitely a symbiotic relationship from which both parties benefit and one for which we never outgrow the need. We are never too old or too young to be a mentor or a mentee.
There are so many examples of formal and informal mentoring in the Dallas Bar that it is hard to know where to start. One thing is certain, the bar programs do not just impact the lives of our members but they also impact the community and our future members. Various bar committees organize and sponsor mentor programs for students from elementary school through law school. The Community Involvement Committee participates in a program through the Trinity River Mission to read to and mentor non-English speaking children who need assistance with homework and computers. This committee also participates in a program for preschool at-risk children to teach them English and pre-reading skills through the Mi Escuelita Reading Program. The Juvenile Justice Committee organizes volunteers to tutor and serve as role models for young students who are confined to the Henry Wade Justice Center. The Law in the Schools and Community Committee organizes volunteers to speak to DISD elementary school, middle school and high school students each year about the law and its impact on their lives.
The Summer Law Intern Program Committee organizes a program to place high school students between their junior and senior year in internships in law firms or law departments for a four to eight week period. These students are mentored by the lawyers and staff of their employers, receive training about our judicial system, and are encouraged to stay in school, go on to college and consider the law as a career. Many students stay in touch with their employers/mentors throughout their college years. Another award winning program sponsored by the Dallas Bar is the high school Mock Trial Competition. The Mock Trial Committee is responsible for organizing and administering the statewide high school mock trial program which was established in 1979. An amazing number of hours are committed by lawyers and judges on this committee to organize this program which involves approximately 200 Texas schools each year and involves over 2,000 students annually. The students in the Dallas area are coached and mentored by a large number of DBA members who commit hundreds of hours each year to the students. The volunteers and students often develop long term relationship and many of the student participants go on to law school.
While the DBA provides many opportunities for its members to mentor DISD students, there are also programs for mentoring law students and lawyers. The Senior Lawyers Committee sponsors a mentoring program for young lawyers or lawyers in transition by matching a seasoned lawyer with a mentee in an informal mentoring setting. The Transition to Law Program, which also has received statewide recognition, is a more formal mentoring program that matches a seasoned lawyer with a young lawyer for a one year period during which the mentors and mentees attend organized CLE programs focused on topics of interest to young lawyers. The program also encourages the mentors and mentees to meet outside of the CLE programs to develop the mentoring relationship. These mentor relationships typically continue long after the formal program is completed. The Minority Participation Committee also sponsors opportunities for seasoned lawyers to meet with young lawyers and law students to discuss career opportunities and obstacles faced by those entering the legal profession today.
I have participated in many of these DBA programs, as well as in the Amachi program which was initiated by Christina Melton Crain in 2009 when she was president of the bar. Amachi is a Big Brother/Big Sister program for children who have a parent or immediate family member who is incarcerated. I have served as a mentor to both undergrad and law students, as well as young lawyers, who have reached out or been referred to me by others. I also had the opportunity of being mentored by Robert “Bob” Estep, a retired Jones Day partner and one of the finest lawyers I have ever had the privilege of knowing. It is impossible to describe how much these relationships have enriched my life. And while sometimes having lunch with a law student or associate or planting flowers with a 10 year old does not seem like it is important, you never know how what you say or do may impact the life of another person.
All of the formal programs mentioned above, while organized and supported by various committees of the bar, represent just a small portion of the mentor/mentee relationships in which Dallas Bar members participate. And while many mentor relationships are born out of these programs, perhaps their real value is to teach us how important it is to reach out and help others. Mentoring, whether through formal or informal programs, has a tremendous influence on the lives of both the mentor and the mentee.
Recently The Texas Law Book featured an article about Jim Coleman entitled “The Mentor: Jim Coleman Turns 90.” In the article many prominent lawyers were quoted about their experiences with Jim Coleman and how he helped them during their careers or served as a role model or mentor for them. While his role as a mentor may not have arisen out of formal mentor programs, Jim clearly had and continues to have a significant impact on the lives of lawyers both inside and outside of his firm and others in the community. His willingness to mentor and help others is one of the things that makes Jim one of the most respected lawyers in the profession. And it is DBA members like Jim, and others who follow his example, that make the DBA the outstanding organization that it is.
We all have the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of those around us, whether it is through formal mentoring programs established by the bar or programs established in our respective firms or offices or through informal opportunities. You never know when you may have the opportunity to impact a life by mentoring, even in a small way, a student, professional or other member of the community. Like Jim Coleman, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of our great profession and it is an honor to be able to give back to the profession and the community through mentoring others when the opportunity arises.