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Mentor or Mentee: Reflections of a Former Protégé

Posted By Administration, Friday, February 28, 2020

Leanor Bailey Hodge, NC State Bar

The Creed of Professionalism of the Wake County/Tenth Judicial District Bar provides in part: “I will share my learning and experience so that we may all improve our skills and abilities.” At first blush, this portion of the creed seems to speak directly to the very important part of professionalism – mentoring. Ahh…mentoring…the opportunity for newly minted lawyers to sit at the feet of more experienced lawyers to learn all the intangibles of law practice. I am a great beneficiary of mentoring, with the gift being first bestowed upon me by a supervising Assistant United States Attorney in the Office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. When this relationship began, I was in law school and eager to obtain any knowledge, experience, or information my mentor was willing to share. I never really thought about whether I had learning and experience to contribute in return. I believed it was my role to learn from my mentor with attentive interest and to glean from his experiences with hopes of bettering my own. 

Alas, it has been many years (more than 20 actually) since I was newly minted enough to be considered ripe for the picking as a protégé. I have now been practicing law long enough to find myself more likely to be assigned to the role of mentor rather than selected as a protégé. I now fit very nicely into the “I” part of the promise to share my learning and experience so that we may all improve our skills and abilities. There is just one issue though: it doesn’t say “I (who has learned from mentors and engaged in the practice of law for several years) will….” It simply states “I will.” This suggests that the I means everyone – you, me, the lawyer with 48 years of practice and the lawyer with 2 years of practice. I am sure most reading this post would nod in agreement with the proposition that mentoring in the legal profession is important and that learning at the feet of masters will have life-long value. However, how many of us who have graduated from protégé to mentor have given any thought to the importance of learning from and sharing in the experience of those to whom we are passing the torch? 

Mentoring is a two-way street. While the benefits of a mentor sharing with a protégé his or her learning and experience are likely obvious to most, by contrast, the advantage of the protégé sharing his or her learning and experience are not as apparent. For example, the advent of technology has society changing at record speed. For that reason alone, there is much I could learn about technology from those who have grown up with it that may improve my own skills and abilities. Also, when I listen to a younger lawyer share about his or her current experience, I am reminded of my early practice and how it shaped me into the lawyer I am today. Perhaps the drafters of our creed were intentional and onto something when they did not qualify the “I” in “I will share my learning and experience so that we may all improve our skills and abilities.”

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