The Key to a Bright Future

Daniel Harper is Vice President, Corporate Counsel and Secretary at Océ North America, Inc. He also serves as president of the ACC Chicago chapter. Mentor: a wise and trusted counselor or teacher; an influential senior sponsor or supporter. The definition of mentor certainly lends itself to my perception of what a good lawyer should be – wise (of course), a counselor and certainly influential. So then, as lawyers in positions of influence, should we not devote some amount of our precious time to mentoring young people who express an interest in the law? How do we create a pipeline of good, honest, ethical, smart and intelligent lawyers to take our place when our time is done? We take advantage of our position today to ensure a future for our profession tomorrow. We teach. We mold students. We take advantage of opportunities to show them what lawyering is all about and guide them as they make decisions about their futures. According to Socrates, "The right way to begin is to pay attention to the young, and make them just as good as possible." Lawyers from ACC's Chicago Chapter participated in a mentoring opportunity this summer with the ACC Chicago Chapter Minority Law Student Summer Internship Program. The program, just completing its eighth year, serves the legal community in several ways: For one, the program places rising 2Ls in internship positions at top notch legal departments in the Chicago metro area, providing students with an invaluable, unique perspective into in-house practice that typically takes years to develop before one enters the coveted offices of the in-house world. Further, the program presents intense personal mentoring to each student regarding all aspects of what it means to be a professional – from interview skills, resume writing, proper attire and interpersonal skills (eye to eye contact, firm handshake, etc.). The students receive feedback and advice worth many years of real-world trial and error, because it comes from experienced people who have already made the mistakes. It also opens the eyes of many people to some of the challenges faced by minority students – challenges that they would not understand but for the relationship with the students. So, in that vein, the mentors may actually become more enlightened than the students as a result of their interactions. Lastly, it creates deep, lasting and meaningful relationships between mentors and mentees, and enhances the reputation of ACC and its members in the legal community. I think we can all agree that mentoring young people is good for the legal community and the community at large, but what personal benefit will you receive as the result of your mentoring efforts? First and foremost, you will be making the legal profession better, one person at a time. Mentoring provides you the opportunity to share your values with those entering the profession. We all have a responsibility to ensure our profession continues to maintain the highest ethical standards. Answers to questions the legal professional faces are often not clearly black or white – there is much more gray. Therefore, guidance based on one's personal experience will help the uninitiated navigate the unknown, avoid mistakes that have been made by the mentor, and answer those questions with a much higher degree of confidence. Mentoring is a wonderful way to build your own personal network while creating a lasting legacy that will exist beyond your professional life and that of your mentee's. Part of mentoring is imbuing the mentee with a sense of responsibility to give back to the community. So, as your values are passed to your mentee, she too will pass those values on to her mentee, and so on down the line. Today's mentees are tomorrow's leaders, so not only will you have a higher degree of exposure to an emerging talent pool, but you will also be helping people who may one day be hiring people like you! Mentoring enables you to practice your leadership skills and to receive honest feedback. The mentoring process should include the mentee providing feedback to you. Is she receiving your advice loud and clear? Are there any miscues in the way that you approach the process? How does your style fit with a younger generation of professional? How can you tailor your message or methodology to better communicate core values that are not generationally limited? In addition to generational differences, you may also benefit from exposure to a young professional that may have a richly diverse background from your own (e.g., a different race, religion, personality style, economic background, national origin, citizenship, etc.). They are also excellent teachers in new media and technology trends, and they can help you improve your skill set. "Mentoring brings us together – across generation, class, and often race – in a manner that forces us to acknowledge our interdependence, to appreciate, in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words, that 'we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny.' In this way, mentoring enables us to participate in the essential but unfinished drama of reinventing community, while reaffirming that there is an important role for each of us in it." Marc Freedman, author of The Kindness of Strangers: Adult Mentors, Urban Youth, and the New Voluntarism Let's be honest, you will also feel good about yourself because you are helping someone else be successful. With relatively little investment on your part, you will have imparted a great deal of wisdom (presumably) and experience to a less sophisticated, but equally passionate, new or soon-to-be lawyer. If you have an intern or mentee, legal or otherwise, take advantage of the opportunity to enhance the intern's experience by giving her meaningful face time, and truly serving as a trusted guide and counselor. If you do not mentor someone, then start now. You will provide that person with knowledge drawn from valuable real-world experience that simply cannot be obtained in the classroom. Finally, as in-house counsel, it is important that our communities know we are hard working, ethical, caring, responsible, enlightened and decent people. Tell your friends and neighbors about your mentoring activities. Let people know that lawyers continue to work hard to make the world a better place to live. You have another fine tangible example of good work to cite in the ACC Program, of how the legal profession reaches out to the community to improve it. It is a demonstrable example of the value system that we in-house lawyers hold true – opportunity, professionalism, ethics and mentoring. Through this program, ACC Chicago is helping to make great lawyers who will be noticed. The community deserves to know that we are doing our part! "The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future in life." -Plato

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