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President’s Letter: Mentoring Starts with 1Ls – if the 1Ls Are Smart

By Darren Summerville
President, DeKalb Bar Association

Last month I attended a late afternoon gathering at Emory Law School – the inaugural Bar Association Networking Fair. As might be deduced by the keen reader, the fair was designed to expose students to the wide spectrum of bar associations out there, and to emphasize early participation in networking opportunities.

Some two dozen organizations sent representatives; those lawyers spent a good couple of hours introducing themselves and their organizations to a crowd of Emory law students. The majority of the attendees were 1Ls – first year students who had started classes that very week.

I was struck by a number of interactions and observations that afternoon. The attendees’ eagerness to interact with and learn from more seasoned members of the bar was obvious. Some lawyers recall the first week of law school fondly, but not many; that these students (call them entrepreneurial, brave, or other appropriate adjectives) added this event to an already daunting schedule of classes and orientation events was impressive. Some of the students attended because of a natural charisma or leadership quality, while others, almost painfully shy, were even more impressive in their efforts to forge initial contacts and sources of advice.

Just as interesting were the representatives who attended, including DBA’s own Mike Rafi and Ana Maria Martinez, representing other worthy organizations. As part of the fair, each organization’s representative said a few words about what the group does, stands for and hopes to achieve.

Of the attorneys who spoke, I have litigated with, against, or in front of more than half – we do indeed practice in a bit of a small world, but there is more to it than that. The bar leaders who had taken the time on a midweek afternoon to brave rush-hour traffic and a fairly Byzantine parking deck are the ones who are rightly providing a portal to mentoring that I feel is both categorically necessary and an obligation (full disclosure: my wife is a professor at the law school, so I used her parking pass for the surface lot).

Those same lawyers tend to not only be the repeat players at events like this, but are also the ones who take the time to teach a class every other semester, present at continuing legal education seminars, or play significant leadership roles within community groups. Perhaps some are naturally drawn to the spotlight, but some are also naturally drawn to “giving back” — an overused phrase but an occasionally useful one.

I would urge those lawyers who have ever considered the possibility of teaching, a bar leadership position, or similar interest, to reach out to the area law schools and offer a lunch, dinner, or other opportunity to answer questions for budding counselors who are malleable and impressionable. Other law schools provide ample opportunities for such assistance and mentoring, as do a host of other groups, including bar organizations, Inns of Court, and alumni associations. I think it is the least a lawyer can do – I suspect that each of us as a younger practitioner bemoaned the unavailability of more experienced attorneys to hand down sage advice. And besides, if you don’t help nudge younger practitioners toward the right way of practicing law, as an appellate court might put it, you “will not be heard to complain” down the line.

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