Posts Tagged ‘mentoring’

Being Mentored

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

I’ve mentioned Mariana Fradman on this blog several times. She’s a top-notch paralegal with over twenty years experience who continually gives back to the paralegal profession. She’s an officer of the New York City Paralegal Association, but this post arises from her role as Chairperson of the NYCPA’s Mentor Committee. In that capacity she coordinates the Mentoring Program, matches students in paralegal studies, paralegals changing practice areas or paralegals who are new to the community with an experienced practicing NYCPA members who are willing to be a resource and make an affirmative effort to get the newcomer oriented to the legal environment. While I’ve occasionally spoken about the value of mentoring here, I have not focused on the role of the person being mentored. Mariana recently started a discussion regarding the role of the person being mentored on The Paralegal Society’s LinkedIn discussion board by posting an article entitled, “This Is Why You Don’t Have a Mentor” by Ryan Holiday that started on 99u.com. The article is good, but of more interest is the discussion found in its comments section on the extent to which the personal life of the person being mentored should be brought to the relationship.

The article draws a bright line, stating that personal life should be left at home: “Your personal life is irrelevant. Your excuses aren’t going to fly. If you get asked to do something, do it the way it was asked. If that means staying up all night to do it, then ok (but that’s to stay your little secret). No one cares what’s going on with you, or at least, they shouldn’t have to.” There is a lot of truth to this and it is a general approach to your obligations as a paralegal, a student, a mentor or a mentee. However, the line may be a bit too bright as pointed out in several of the comments. The gist of those comments is, “Yes, leave drama at home, and if you have no drama at home, don’t create it in the office. No one likes to be involved with drama. But a mentor relationship is built on sharing life experience. An aspiring person in a new field looks up to someone successful thats (sic) doing exciting things.”

Where do you come done on this? In any case, the article and the comments are worth a read. Join the conversation!

A Legacy of Professionalism / Mentoring

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Last Saturday the father of a friend, who is himself an attorney died. I only met his father a couple of time, but heard a lot about him. A few days ago, Judge Primeaux posted the following regarding Tom’s father’s professionalism and the role of mentoring. It is primarily addressed to attorneys, but applies as well to paralegals. After you read it, I’d like you to consider what role you can play as a mentor or a mentoree in one of the many mentoring programs supported by local paralegal associations. If your association does not have such a program, perhaps you can play a role in starting one.

Attorney Thomas Henry Freeland, III, of Oxford, died last Saturday…Mr. Freeland’s friends knew him as Hal. I did not know him, but from what I read about him he was one of those lawyers who set high standards for himself and demanded the same from those who worked with him. The respect he earned is clear in the comments on Tom’s blog.

One of those comments, by attorney Danny Lampley of Tupelo, brought me up short, and I hope he and Tom will forgive me for copying a part of it so you can read it here:

Small things I would overlook as an ignorant clerk were revealed to be important. I recall Hal crossing out incorrect phrasing in an acknowledgment and telling me the correct words to use; and he took the time to tell me why those words were better and explained how doing it one way would have an effect different from doing it the other way. I learned that just because everybody says “the law” is thus and such and “the cases say so” does not mean that is really “the law” nor is it necessarily what the cases said. I learned you gotta read ‘em and you have to understand what it is exactly that they say. I learned to always independently research an issue and to never assume that a rule is today what you thought it was yesterday. I learned how to be a lawyer; I only wish I could more often put it into actual practice.

Mr. Lampley learned how to be a lawyer from one who took professionalism seriously and who understood the care, devotion and attention that the law demands. Beyond learning the craft of lawyering, though, he learned the meaning of professionalism. And — this is important — there is a distiction between ethics and professionalism. Ethics requires that you practice in a way that conforms to both the letter and the spirit of rules of conduct. Professionalism is the style in which you approach and carry out those ethical requirements. Professionalism demands more than mere observance of the standards, Or, as Justice Mike Randoph told a gathering of chancery judges a few months ago: “The rules are the basic minimum. We expect much more than that.”

If you are a young lawyer, I encourage you to seek out a battle-scarred old warhorse who would be willing to be your mentor. If you are as fortunate as attorney Lampley, you will learn that mastery of the legal profession lies not in discovering the shortcuts, but rather in learning to love the hard work, devotion, attention to detail, study, creativity and long hours that it takes to achieve excellence.

Mr. Freeland left his family his own personal legacy, including two children who are, themselves, members of our profession. But far more than that, as those blog comments reveal, he left the legal profession richer by inculcating professionalism in those whom he mentored. I hope that someone will be able to write that about all of us when our days reach their end.

Attorneys: Mentor Your Paralegals

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Elona Jouben, MPS, Paralegal/Program Assistant at American Association of University Professors has a very good article in Escambia-Santa Rosa Bar Association’s publication, The Summation. The article is addressed to attorneys who sit in their office “frustrated because [they] are not quite getting the quality work product and professionalism [they] want from [their] paralegal.” She notes that that many paralegals have  a “paralegal‘s fervent, but often overlooked, wish – that [the attorney]would do something to enable her to more fully develop the skills” and advises attorneys, “The answer is
simple and may not have even occurred to you. Mentor your paralegal.”

Mentoring, as Elona points out, ought to be part of every attorney/paralegal relationship. She say, “Mentoring your paralegal begins by simply being willing to take the time to answer questions – not just what and how, but why it is important as well. Opening and encouraging channels of communication and providing constructive feedback on your paralegal‘s work product allows her to understand not only what you want corrected and how, but the all important why behind it.”

The one caveat I’d add is that the mentoring can, and should, go both ways. As I’ve noted here (and in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional) The keys to an effective, sustainable attorney/paralegal relationship include respect for each others role on the legal team and communication about and within those roles.

In previous posts I’ve discussed, however, the confusion that may exist even among attorneys over the role of the paralegal. That confusion results not only in a less effective legal team, but in frustration and unhappiness on the part of both the attorney and paralegal.

You can help reduce the confusion by being aware of the potential for it, being clear in your own mind about what you can and cannot do, and being willing to talk to your attorney about it in an open, honest and non-confrontational way. This is especially true in obtaining the instructions you need to do your job correctly.

No one benefits from a paralegal spending four hours completing a research project only to find out they did not understand what the attorney was asking. Nor is it beneficial to spend four hours completing a project you do understand if a few clarifying questions would have made it a one hour project. On the other hand, receiving highly detailed instructions or only unchallenging tasks that require little or no instruction wastes the attorney’s time, under utilizes you as a paralegal which wastes the attorney’s money and your competence, and leads to frustration on your part, if not hers.

However, it is not likely that she does this intentionally. More likely, she was simply unaware that more was needed, either because that is her management style, she made faulty assumptions or she has an insufficient understanding of what you in particular or paralegals in general can do. She cannot read your mind, and you cannot read hers.

So you can see that obtaining proper instructions means instructing the attorney. We come back again to basic communication.

In other posts, I’ve discussed some measures you can take to prevent and resolve these difficulties, and improve attorney/paralegal communication in general. Most can be found in the “Relationship with Attorney” category.

Connecticut Paralegal of the Year Demonstrates Professionalism

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Today’s The Connecticut Law Tribune reports on Patricia B. “Pattie” Chouinard who recently received the first ever Connecticut Paralegal of the Year award. The reward seems well deserved for many reasons. Here are some of the comments from the story that emphasize Pattie’s professionalism:

“Don’t ever turn any [assignment] down,” Chouinard said she tells college students that she mentors and new associate lawyers she helps train. “The best thing you can do when someone asks you to help with X, Y and Z is to say, ‘Absolutely,’ and learn as you go. The hands-on experience is so much more valuable than anything else.”

She’s able to balance the demands of about 20 business lawyers who need her assistance morning, noon, night and even some weekends. All the while she plays critical leadership roles with the Central Connecticut Paralegal Association and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.

She also coordinates the projects and workloads for the other paralegals in the business law department. And she assists the firm with orientation and training of new associates.

“She makes a client’s problems her own and addresses them in a way that makes sure the client is well taken care of,” added Brooks. “If she needs to be here at night, in the wee hours of the morning, she’ll do that.”

Chouinard is especially proud of her involvement with the Central Connecticut Paralegal Association. For 20 years, she’s served on the group’s board of directors in various capacities. She’s currently vice president.

Chouinard has also participated in a bevy of CCPA pro bono activities, including annual Utility Day events at which the paralegals are partnered with Statewide Legal Services. The volunteers help consumers work out schedules to pay off their overdue utility bills.

Last but not least, Chouinard sometimes mentors paralegal students and some, she said, have gone on to become attorneys. “It’s wonderful. Students are like sponges and soak up anything and are willing to learn anything,” Chouinard said.

Before leaving Pattie, I’d like to extend kudos to her firm.  Here’s what Pattie has to say about them:

She adds that the attorneys at Shipman & Goodwin have always made the firm’s paralegals “an integral part of the team…”

Shipman & Goodwin clearly have reaped the rewards of this attitude regarding paralegals while providing an environment where Pattie has been able to fully actualize her potential to the benefit of herself, her profession, her employers, the legal system, and the public. Congratulations to both.