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VOL. 121 | NO. 141 | Thursday, July 13, 2006

Latest Legal Mentoring Program Pairs Seasoned Vets With Recent Grads

By Andrew Ashby

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PEARL OF WISDOM: A new mentoring program seeks to pair seasoned legal professionals with their less experienced peers.

The Memphis Bar Association's Senior Lawyers and Young Lawyers divisions have joined with the Leo Bearman Sr. American Inn of Court, the Ben F. Jones chapter of the American Bar Association and the Association for Women Attorneys to launch a mentoring program for sole law practitioners with five or fewer years of experience.

Pat Arnoult, a member of the Bogatin Law Firm PLC and current chairman of the Memphis Bar Association's senior lawyers division, said every new lawyer needs some help, especially sole practitioners.

"(Sole practitioners) come out of law school, they hang up their shingle and they have no one to turn to when they have a difficult situation," Arnoult said.

Arnoult, who is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association, has been practicing law for more than 40 years. He said young lawyers who join firms almost always have a senior lawyer there to make sure everything is done right and there is no over-billing.

"Coming out of law school doesn't mean you know how to practice law," Arnoult said. "That's why they call it the practice. You
never quit learning. Any lawyer who comes out of law school and stops learning, you wouldn't want to use them."

Never-ending classroom

"There are a lot of things that lawyers can do that can be used for good and, if it's not used correctly, can be used for bad. So it's important for the entire legal community, if they want to keep lawyers as a profession in good regard with the community, it's in our best interest to make sure the next generation of lawyers is doing things correctly."
- Attorney Kirk Caraway
Allen, Summers, Simpson, Lillie & Gresham PLLC

Since sole practitioners don't have the option of turning to co-workers for advice and guidance, the mentoring program can serve as a substitute. The MBA's Web site,www.memphisbar.org, has a list of volunteer mentors whom sole practitioners may contact. The mentors are separated by area of expertise or focus, such as bankruptcy, criminal or civil law.

Arnoult said he hopes area judges help promote the mentoring program by recognizing young lawyers who need advice.

"If you go to court, you'll see good lawyers and you'll see inexperienced lawyers and you'll see judges get frustrated sometimes with how things are presented," Arnoult said. "Those judges will have the opportunity to discreetly suggest to a young lawyer who is stumbling along that he might want to consider getting some mentoring in this area."

Circuit Court Judge Kay Robilio already talks to young lawyers during swearing-in ceremonies.

"I make it a point to always invite the attorney to come by chambers to talk or to call if they have questions," Robilio said. "I make myself available and I emphasize it."

Mentoring Program Volunteer List
Web site: www.memphisbar.org
Call Lesia Beach at 527-3573
E-mail: lbeach@memphisbar.org

Robilio also is familiar with the mentoring process. She is the president of the Memphis Association for Women Attorneys, an organization that has been mentoring female law students for more than 20 years. MAWA holds receptions each fall for law students who are interested in finding mentors. The organization pairs students with its members and supplies members to the MBA mentoring program.

"You really realize when you graduate from law school how little you know," Robilio said. "You have a thousand questions. It's really imperative to have colleagues with whom you can be in communication to assist you."

Get seasoned - fast

Kirk Caraway, an attorney with Allen, Summers, Simpson, Lillie & Gresham PLLC and president of the MBA's Young Lawyers Division, said he thinks the mentoring program could be particularly helpful to young attorneys. The division is open to lawyers younger than 36 or those who are in their first three years of practice.

"I don't see a downside at all," Caraway said. "I think it could assist young lawyers in learning the ins and outs of the practice of law much quicker."

Caraway said young lawyers have two ways to learn: by having someone teach them or through trial and error.

"It's certainly better to have someone teach you how to do it rather than doing it incorrectly in court and having a judge correct you in front of your client and your peers," he said.

Learning cuts both ways

While the mentoring program has been set up to help young attorneys, it also could be beneficial for the mentors. Experienced attorneys had to learn the legal ropes from someone when they started, and this is a chance to pass that experience on, Caraway said.

"Certainly, (more experienced attorneys) are not going to gain anything financially from this," Caraway said. "It's just a way for the older lawyers to educate younger attorneys and give back to the legal community."

Helping young lawyers also could be beneficial to the Memphis and Shelby County legal community in other ways, Caraway said. Lawyers carry significant power as officers of the court. They can issue subpoenas or file law suits, so it's important they know the proper procedures, Caraway said.

"There are a lot of things that lawyers can do that can be used for good and, if it's not used correctly, can be used for bad," Caraway said. "So it's important for the entire legal community, if they want to keep lawyers as a profession in good regard with the community, it's in our best interest to make sure the next generation of lawyers is doing things correctly."

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