Finding the Right Mentoring Relationship
by Sara Crocker
hen Ed Hopkins signed up for the Denver Bar Association Mentoring Program, he did so hoping to get a better understanding of criminal law. But in working with his mentor, Charley Garcia, he was taken on a new path that has affected his career and his understanding of the profession.
“Charley and I have had sometimes confrontational conversations, but very philosophical,” Hopkins said. “We would talk about what it means to be a lawyer in this community and we would go into detail.”
Largely because of their mentoring relationship, Hopkins said, he decided to leave a four-lawyer law firm he helped found. He started a new firm, HopkinsWay, where he focuses on defamation and privacy law litigation and has more time for pro bono work. His relationship with Garcia also caused him to focus less on the business of being an attorney and more on the less tangible aspects of the profession.
“Because [Charley] was willing to invest that kind of time in me, he persuaded me to become, I believe, a better lawyer,” Hopkins said.
The DBA Mentoring Program, entering its third year as a program and its second year as a part of the Colorado Mentoring Program, is supported by the bar associations and the Chief Justice Commission on the Legal Profession. The 12-month program was revamped for the 2012 class to promote pride in the profession; excellence in service; and strong relationships with the bar, courts, clients, and the public through teaching the core values and ideals of the legal profession and the best practices for meeting those ideals. Each mentee and mentor will receive 15 continuing legal education credits upon successful completion of the program.
Applications for attorneys who are interested in being a part of a mentoring relationship in 2013 are open until Thursday, Nov. 15.
For Nicole Black, getting involved in the bar association was an important first step after graduating from law school, and she saw the mentoring program as one of the best ways to do so.
Black, an associate with Davis & Ceriani, P.C., was paired with Tony van Westrum, a longtime business attorney who worked in large firms but then left to start a solo practice. He’s provided a wealth of knowledge for Black.
“The more you can gain from someone [who has] been there and done that, and from several different directions, is really helpful,” Black said.
Mentor Leia Ursery said she believes the young lawyers who participate in the Colorado Mentoring Program (which also has local programs like the DBA program operating in the 7th Judicial District, the 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, the Boulder County Bar Association, the Larimer County Bar Association, the Minori Yasui Inn of Court, and the University of Colorado School of Law) get a “leg up” in getting involved with the legal community. Additionally, Ursery, who serves on the DBA Mentoring Program Planning Committee, has seen an outpouring of support from established attorneys for the program.
“I think seeing the outstanding outreach and interest in this really reaffirms that people are willing to get involved in their legal community,” she said.
Colorado Court of Appeals Judge Alan Loeb, who has been involved with the program since it began, agreed. “[The mentoring program] got me involved in the larger community of the bar that was serious about and concerned about the state of mentoring in Colorado,” he said.
The program puts a strong emphasis on these one-on-one relationships and the values of the professionalism.
For Sarah Steinbeck, a mentee of Loeb, it was a way for her to learn more about other career options.
“At the time I started the program, I was in a non-traditional legal position, and Judge Loeb provided excellent advice on various paths that I was considering,” she said.,/
Mentors in the program noted that they were able to learn from others when they were first launching their careers, and a mentoring program is one way for them to pay it forward to the next generation of attorneys.
“I was very intrigued by a program that would hand-deliver a mentoring relationship,” Ursery said. “I was so lucky having that in my world and I just want to be sure others have that option, as well.”
It also is important to share the values of the profession with new attorneys, mentors said.
“In this town, your reputation is everything,” Garcia said. “That reputation goes beyond being just a good lawyer. It’s a good person, a good citizen, the whole package, and that’s all I tried to instill.”
Van Westrum echoed Garcia’s thoughts: “Every new generation needs to be taught it’s not OK to kick and fight,” he said. “In Colorado, that’s not the way lawyers have gotten ahead. They’ve gotten ahead by being good.”
Black says it’s been helpful to have someone outside her firm that she can bounce ideas off of, and that she’s relied on van Westrum for his wealth of ethics knowledge to help her navigate “the little things you come across on a daily basis.”
It also helps to meet others in the profession and see how they have shaped their own career, said Kirsten Jacobs, who is being mentored by Ursery.
“You can’t know how to do everything overnight. This was the most intimidating perception I had about the legal profession,” she said. “There are so many aspects to every area of law, and it was comforting to learn that it takes most attorneys several years to overcome this learning curve.”
Both Hopkins and Black said their mentors also have encouraged and fostered their furthering involvement in the legal community. Hopkins serves as chair of the judicial nominating committee for the Sam Cary Bar Association. Garcia’s commitment to access to justice also has rubbed off, and Hopkins says he has logged more than 100 hours of pro bono legal services in the past year.
Black now serves on the Council of the Colorado Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division.
“I think getting involved in the bar is really a good idea to remind you why you became a lawyer and what you like about the law,” Black said. “It’s really nice to step outside of that little microcosm of your firm.”
In serving as a mentor, van Westrum has been pleased to see that so many of the core values that led him and many of his peers to law school are still a part of younger generations.
“It’s really rewarding to see that the law profession is going to be in good hands for a long time,” van Westrum said. “There really is continuity to the profession.”
Those paired for the program agreed that the relationships they have established during the past year will continue. More than that, Garcia said he hopes those who have been impacted by the program will continue to remain involved with its evolution.
“I hope that the one thing that comes out of a program like this is that Ed will become a mentor. That’s what’s really important, because that’s how it will spread,” he said.
Hopkins added, “That’s guaranteed to happen.”
This kind of commitment to a program that promotes the core values of the profession are what will make for a better legal community as a whole, mentors said.
“I think people should do this because it makes the profession a better place for all of us, and if you do that, society as a whole is going to be better because you’re going to end up with better lawyers who are going to give back to their community,” Garcia said.
For Hopkins, signing up for the program changed his perceptions about who he would be as a lawyer and how he would practice law.
“Everybody could benefit from the program, and that’s not an understatement,” Hopkins said. “I’m sincerely grateful that the program existed and that it gave me a chance to hook up with Charley. This has been a very important part of my life.” D