Category: Mentors

MentorsProfessionalismResources

Gifts Aplenty

JEL23652-Blackford, Sheila P3 (2)   by Sheila Blackford   ©2011   Here in Oregon, new lawyers are beginning their professional life working with their new mentors according to the desired goals of Oregon’s New Lawyer Mentor Program. I have seen many of these new lawyers who are seeking help with launching their own law practice. Likely this is a situation being repeated in many states as more law school graduates take and pass their state but don’t find a position with a law firm or government agency or in-house counsel.

My advice to these new lawyers  is to get more mentors to work with. There is no “One-Size-Fits-All” mentor. But there are talented lawyers who are experts at closing statements, drafting clear contracts and compelling motions. Others have mastered the fine art of working the room at a networking event or meeting with a prospective client. Still others are excellent at numbers and managing law firm financials so that clients are served at the most reasonable rate at a reasonable profit to the firm.

Where to find these potential mentors? Begin asking other lawyers and judges and judicial clerks to name the five best family law attorneys or civil litigators or criminal defense lawyers or estate planning attorneys. Watch these recommended lawyers in court. Then begin deciding who you think you’d like to learn from. You will be surprised how often these lawyers will be willing to give you tips. I haven’t heard of any of them turn down meeting with a new lawyer. Part of being good at your game is being dedicated to the profession. Realizing that, it is easy to see that you are just as important to these lawyers as they are to you.  Consider them your team of mentors and begin getting gifts aplenty.

GeneralMentorsProfessionalismResources

Attorney at Law not Dabbler at Law

JEL23652-Blackford, Sheila P3 (2)  by Sheila Blackford   ©2010   There are many lawyers starting up their law practice these days. Some have become unemployed by larger firms downsizing as an economic survival tactic while others are newer lawyers who have decided to hedge their bet on getting an associate position. Whatever the push for opening up one’s own law practice, the attorney should take care to devote him- or her-self wholeheartedly to the clients who come seeking legal help. No dabbler’s in the law! You’d be horrified if a doctor set about to see a patient with a dabbler-in-medicine attitude. It is just as serious. What is dabbling? Though not a term of art, we all would agree that to dabble is to engage in something without the serious study and practice required of competent mastery.

Oregon Rule of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.1 Competence, based on the ABA Model Rules, states: A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.

Four Quadrants of Competence: Unconscious Incompetence is a dangerous place for dabblers
You may have heard of the Four Quadrants of Competence: Unconscious Incompetence, Conscious Incompetence, Conscious Competence, and Unconscious Competence. Passing the State Bar Exam indicates you have minimum competence. The Bar Exam can’t test all areas of law practice or assess how well a candidate can deal with a specific issue facing a client. Herein lays the danger: you may not know what you do not know. This is the quadrant known as Unconscious Incompetence. Something you can’t forget if you are working by yourself without supervision by a more experienced lawyer.

Cure for Dabbling
If you have a mentor helping you, call. If not, you may want to contact the Oregon State Bar Lawyer to Lawyer Program which allows you to check in with a more experienced lawyer. You can reach the Lawyer to Lawyer Program by calling the Bar at 503-431-6408. If you want to help lawyers by participating in the rewarding program, download an application here. The Lawyer to Lawyer Program is especially helpful as more experienced lawyers find themselves feeling the need to practice out of their practice area in order to make overhead and cost of living expenses.

It takes time to move from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Incompetence – where you are aware that you don’t know something and seek advice. It takes years of practice, getting advice and guidance from senior attorneys, attending substantive area CLEs and studying to develop the mastery of a practice area with Conscious Competence where you are aware that you know it and are tuned into the process of doing the details with competence.

As you may recall, the fourth Quadrant is Unconscious Competence, where you just act with competence without being consciously aware of the many steps. You may see unconsciously competent attorneys seemingly engaging effortlessly in cross-examination of a witness. They are not just a natural giant in the courtroom; they have honed their skills over decades of hard work. Many of these members of the Bar are willing to serve as mentors. Ask around for who are the giants in a practice area; call on them for some mentoring. They can help you prevent dabbling in the law.

Law Practice ManagementMentorsTechnology

Can we collaborate?

JEL23652-Blackford, Sheila P3 (2)  by Sheila Blackford   ©2010    I am down at University of Oregon School of Law teaching an intensive one-week Law Practice Management course on how to launch your law practice. This is the first time in its history that U of O Law has offered intensive one-week classes. The students are enjoying it because they can focus their attention on one class. I think the January term idea is a good one. I still remember my own January term course at Mills College : Translating Anglo Saxon Prose to read Beowulf: unforgettable, though it was the first and last Anglo Saxon I read… I dare say this course will be far more useful. For me it’s a fantastic experience working with enthusiastic bright 3Ls, using PBWorks as a collaboration tool in a state-of-the art law school. I have used Google Docs and enjoyed using it to collaborate. But down here in Eugene, I have been steeped in PBWorks in a community of learners– truly the best learning is learning together.

Hmm, I think I might be turning into a Duck. I just might be tempted to buy the Oregon Ducks wireless computer keyboard I saw in the Court Cafe…

Seriously, mid-way through the week, I know that the Oregon legal community will be enriched by this group of entrepreneurs who are looking forward to becoming this decade’s newest members of the Oregon Bar.

Jay Foonberg’s helpful book “How to Start & Build a Law Practice (5th Edition) has been the course text, offering lots of ideas to ponder. Tonight, my favorite is Project Reverse Mentoring: pairing senior lawyers with young lawyers. Win-win. I hope we can see this happening here in Oregon! (See www.SeniorLawyers.org) The senior lawyer can have a technologically savvy highly-motivated mentor and the young lawyer can have a practice-savvy seasoned mentor who may be wanting to have someone help with the caseload and wondering how they can keep up the pace of a busy practice as they get closer to retirement. Pairing up with a young lawyer may be just the ticket to feeling re-invigorated. It has been for me. If any Oregon senior lawyers are interested in this idea, get in touch.

Business PlanningGeneralLaw Practice ManagementMentorsProfessionalism

Remembering the first year of law practice– a call to mentor our new lawyers.

JEL23652-Blackford, Sheila P3 (2)  by Sheila Blackford   ©2009    When I was in my last year of McGeorge Law School in Sacramento, California, I decided to start my own law practice. Along with my law books, I toted Jay Foonberg’s “How to Start & Build a Law Practice,” getting myself ready to run my own show. Jay was my mentor. Then I moved to Oregon. Took and passed the bar and opened up my solo practice in Portland, Oregon. Luckily, I rented office space from a great group of attorneys who owned their building and were willing to rent out the small office at the top of the stairs. Thanks, Bob Demary, Mike Sandoval, Susan Teller, and Carol Westendorf! You each supplied a bit of mentoring on the fly and devoted time to just talk about how it was going or wasn’t going. Shortly after moving into my office, I joined the Multnomah Bar Association. Through the MBA’s formal mentor-mentee program, I got my mentor choice in elder law, Cynthia Barrett who let me come into her elder law office and see how to best handle everything from client intake to document signing. I remember Susan and Carol both encouraged me to keep a journal of my first year – that it was an important one. I was too busy to keep a journal, but I kept good memories. That first year went fast. Though I was a solo, I wasn’t alone.

Last night I got to do my second of two mini-classes for the Lewis & Clark School of Law Graduate Fellows Program for the 2009 graduates. Wonderful young attorneys eager to start their careers. Eager to learn last week about calendaring, docketing, and file tickling and last night, avoiding conflicts of interests and ethical pitfalls. The first year is a foundational year. Many of the faces were young and I expect they will still be practicing law in 30 and 40 years. In 30 to 40 years, I’ll be looking among their midsts for a good elder law attorney no doubt!

Next Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday the PLF does its annual “Learning the Ropes” program for newly admitted attorneys and others entering private practice. There will be young lawyers who hail from Lewis & Clark, Willamette, and University of Oregon, and likely others like me who came from law schools elsewhere. What is their first year as a lawyer going to be like? Many of them will be wondering that same question. I don’t know how many of them have landed jobs already.

I suspect this year will be lean for law jobs. It may not be an exaggeration that the majority of newly admitted Oregon lawyers likely have not yet landed jobs. Some may decide to hang their own shingle as a solo or gather together a few fellow law school graduates to start their own firm. How are they going to get mentored?

I put out a call to each of you to remember your first year as a lawyer. If you’re an alumni of one our law schools, Lewis & Clark, U of O, or Willamette, give your alumni office a call and reach out to a recent grad. If you come across a new lawyer, offer to get together for a cup of coffee to find out how it’s going or not going. A year goes fast.