January 29, 2021
President’s Message By Elizabeth Hughes
Leading into this brand-new year, I am taking stock of all of the things that I have to be thankful for in these difficult times. During the holidays, I received an unexpected text message from another lawyer who is several years younger than me. She thanked me for always being supportive and looking out for her and others. This attorney is highly accomplished in her own right and is always ready to step up and contribute on boards and committees. That moment, reading that text, made me realize how important mentoring is in our profession and how we might not even realize when we are providing guidance to another lawyer and how impactful that can be.
As we continue into 2021, still primarily in a virtual setting in the legal profession, mentoring is more important than ever. The in-person events and CLEs that would normally provide the forums for young attorneys to meet more seasoned attorneys and cultivate those mentoring relationships have not happened. We have newly minted attorneys that passed a bar exam that was administered remotely and have now stepped into a largely remote legal practice landscape. The opportunities that have existed in the past for those conversations that naturally occur in the office setting or when a young associate attends court to observe a more senior associate are now few and far between. These moments are often crucial to building the confidence and skills of young attorneys.
I can attest to the significance of mentors in my career. The individuals that I call my mentors have invaluable knowledge to impart and I reach out to them often. Even more importantly, they reach out to me to willingly share what they have learned over the years. Never underestimate the value of the information and experience that you can share with others. I know that it might be easy right now to only think of the tasks at hand in your day to day practice, but I am calling on all of you as members to find innovative ways to connect with a young attorney or a law student, whether they are in your firm or practice, whether you reach out through an ACBA committee or division, or through your law alumni association to see who you can mentor. I guarantee that someone will take you up on the offer and you will both be better for the experience. Have a cup of coffee over Zoom. Ask the Judge and other parties in a case that is happening virtually if you are permitted to have a young lawyer attend to observe. Connect over social media.
I also asked several of my colleagues how mentors in the profession have impacted them. Attorney Robin Frank stated that mentoring by other lawyers helped her “learn what it truly means to excel in the profession. The impact of someone taking the time to answer a phone call or share a cup of coffee can reach far beyond the end of that call or that meeting.”
Morgan Moody, an attorney at KidsVoice, shared that the “collective mentorship” that she received particularly from a group of other Black women attorneys helped her navigate the legal community here in Pittsburgh, especially as a transplant from another city. Morgan stated that the “guidance and counsel” of various other mentors has helped her meet practitioners within her field and helped her shape the beginning of her career into five years of professional fulfillment in the work that she does. Mentoring a young lawyer early on in their career can have a profound effect on quelling a lot of fears and reservations that many of us had just starting out, wondering if we had chosen the right path. Sometimes all it takes is one mentor to keep a great lawyer from leaving the profession forever because they feel isolated and unsupported.
Mentors also serve to model how we should carry ourselves as lawyers. ACBA President-Elect Joe Williams is one of the most stellar examples of professionalism that you will ever see in a courtroom. I say this from the personal experience in my past life as a family law practitioner where I had many cases where Joe was opposing counsel. He was consistently able to zealously advocate for his client while never compromising his professionalism.
Joe ascribes how he carries himself in a courtroom to learning from mentors. “The mentors I had at the beginning of my career were essential in not only the development of the skills necessary to be a lawyer, but also modeling the professionalism and decorum that correlate to success.” Joe also pointed to the passive mentoring that happens just from watching and learning. “I find myself continuing to be positively impacted by those members of our bar and judiciary that I hold in high esteem, even if they don’t realize they are mentoring me!”
Finally, there has been a lot of discussion in our profession regarding the need for diversity and especially inclusion. Mentoring provides the perfect opportunity to not just welcome diverse lawyers, but to be inclusive and retain these lawyers in the profession and in our local Pittsburgh legal community. When you are mentoring, be deliberate in seeking out diverse attorneys to mentor. Studies show that we naturally gravitate to those who we identify as being like ourselves. Keep mentoring those individuals but I challenge you to also step outside of your comfort zone to mentor someone who doesn’t look like you or who shares different life experiences than you. Mentors can often learn more from a mentee than they ever realized and the more we know about others and ourselves, the better lawyers we become.