As the summer comes to an end and we head back to our desks, we shift our focus from vacation to work; from golf shifts to suit jackets and gardening gloves to a briefcase. September is a time of renewed commitment to our profession for many of us. Law students across Canada are doing the same thing and they are looking to us for guidance. To that end, many lawyers participate in mentorship programs through bar associations and other organizations. For those of us taking on this responsibility, here are some things to consider.
Leave a good first impression. Lawyers like to tell battle stories, but so do law students. Many law students’ battle stories stem from their encounter with a real lawyer — often their mentor. As the Journal of Experimental Psychology recently published, a first impression dominates how one perceives another person in every new context. Even if you learn that your first impression was wrong, it is changed only in the context that you learned it was wrong and the first impression will dominate in any new environment.
In other words, a first impression does not just go away.
Recognize that law school is not lawyer school. Law students do not learn the traditions of the legal profession from textbooks and lectures. It is other lawyers who teach students how to practise law. When lawyers are mindful of this and mentor law students in a practical and respectful way, the impact extends well into their career.
Remember that mentorship is a career-long process. As a judge once told me in open court, “Mr. Paul, we’re all students of the law.” You need to encourage your students to ask questions not only from yourself but others, because we may not always have the answers ourselves.
A good mentor should be focused on the development of the legal profession as a genuine, honest, and noble career. Helping students to develop these qualities is one way we can help maintain the bar’s continued independence which Canadian Bar Association president Robert Brun has identified as being a top priority of the CBA.
Identify your personal goals as a mentor. My goals include emphasizing integrity and continuing education and fostering positive future relationships, which will directly benefit my firm in coming years.
Expose your students to the frontline — they need to see the law at work. Provide your students with the technology and resources to know the dates and times of trials and encourage your students to sit in court once or twice per week. Explain to them the proper decorum, dress, and discourse that will raise the legal profession’s standards when they practise.
Encourage your students to join and sign up for CBA and other bar association events. Students receive three free CBA sections while in law school. In B.C., we have over 70 sections to choose from. Sections not only provide an opportunity for learning but are also an excellent forum for meeting other lawyers in the community, both junior and senior.
Remember that students are generally new to everything so make a point of keeping them in the loop. For example, a straightforward practice announcement or a change to a particular legislation may have no context to the student although it may be highly relevant to the firm’s practice. You need to encourage your students to stay abreast of these changes/notices and understand what they mean in the context of the firm’s practice and their responsibility as young lawyers.
Finally, have some fun. Mentorship is a wonderful opportunity to re-engage with why you chose this profession in the first place.
This article was completed with the assistance of Ben Austring, who has just completed his first year at Canada’s newest law school at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C.