October 15, 2003 Managing Editor Regular News E-mentoring helps guide law students into the profession E-mentoring helps guide law students into the profession Mark D. Killian Managing EditorMentoring is classically defined as a process by which an older and more experienced person takes a younger person under his or her wing, freely offering advice, support, and encouragement.In a new twist on the old mentoring concept, the Bar’s Standing Committee on Professionalism has launched an e-mentoring program, matching experienced lawyers with the lawyers of tomorrow — law students.More than 1,000 law students have already signed up for the project, which pairs students with experienced lawyers willing to share stories and give advice via e-mail, said Katherine Silverglate, chair of The Florida Bar Standing Committee on Professionalism.What the committee needs now is more lawyers to volunteer to be mentors.The goal, Silverglate said, is to provide a safety net for young lawyers before they leave law school, before they pass the bar, and before they take on the responsibility of representing the interests of clients in Florida.Silverglate said today’s students need the advice of working lawyers who have on the job experience. While Florida law students get top notch legal training from their academic programs, they need the benefit of experience to find out what else they need once they become lawyers, she said.But why e-mentoring? Because it is often difficult to find the time to meet face-to-face, given the busy schedules of lawyers and students. Silverglate said e-mentoring has the advantage of transcending geographic boundaries and time constraints. Online you can meet anytime.“The easy thing is in an e-relationship you never have to do anything other than answer e-mails,” Silverglate said. “The world was not ready for an e-mentoring project five years ago, but now it is.”Originally, the program was introduced as the Mentor Attorney Professionalism Program, a CLE program for mentors and a voluntary project for young lawyers. The problem was the committee couldn’t convince young lawyers that they really needed a mentor, Silverglate said. So, on the advice of committee member Henry Latimer, the committee decided that instead of waiting until a lawyer has actually started to practice without the guidance of a mentor, it would work to make sure that each law student in Florida has the opportunity to be matched with a mentor.“The exciting thing is the little spark has turned into a flame, and now we are facing a raging fire,” Silverglate said.To get word of the program out to students and possible mentors, Silverglate has traveled to most of the state’s law schools and a number of voluntary bar associations to present a one-hour dramatic monologue titled the “Many Fabulous Hats a Lawyer Wears.” Silverglate dons 36 hats and goes into different characters. Each hat represents roles lawyers play, such as counselor, firefighter, police officer, teacher, and magician to name a few — “All the things you have to balance as a lawyer.”“I gave a speech at the University of Miami and every student in the room signed up, and then the dean called me up about two days later and said the news spread like wildfire about this opportunity and there were 125 more students who did not attend the presentation who wanted to participate,” she said.Silverglate said the Bar has created a computer program, and as soon as a student’s name goes into the system it goes into a waiting bay, and as soon as a mentor goes into a system they are instantly matched and an e-mail goes to each saying, “Congratulations, a mentor has been chosen for you,” and the e-mail addresses are exchanged.“We need to get law students’ attention and make them aware of professionalism issues before they start practicing,” Silverglate said. “Just having an e-relationship with somebody, where you can ask real questions to a practicing lawyer who knows what the day-to-day demands are, is an incredible opportunity for law students.”The Center for Professionalism helps to facilitate the relationship by once a month sending discussion prompts to the mentors and proteges, such as articles that discuss something that happened in a case or something that is happening in the legislature that will affect the profession.“If they have an idea to talk about then, suddenly, it blossoms into a conversation,” Silverglate said.Silverglate said many students have no idea about the magnitude of changes their lives will face once they become lawyers.“In school they focus on academics and getting a job,” Silverglate said. “If a student focuses on the balance part of it, she is still going to be a mom; she is still going to be a wife; she is talking to a real person who is still wearing all of those hats and will make the student aware of balancing those issues.”Silverglate said the Committee on Professionalism is also trying to get local bars to encourage their members to serve as mentors. She said the Florida chapter of ABOTA recently volunteered all of its qualified members to serve as mentors. “We need whole organizations to volunteer their people to participate in this because we are changing the whole culture [of the profession],” Silverglate said, noting students who participate will come out of school with a new level of understanding and perspective on the profession.To become an e-mentor you must have been a Bar member for seven years or longer (although the committee will consider those with five to seven years experience), be in good standing with the Bar, and “really want to do it,” Silverglate said.“People complain all the time about how the system is broken and how we need to fix it,” Silverglate said. “This is an absolute winner with a low time commitment and high return. For all those complainers out there who want to change the practice of law and pass on to the next generation the right way to do it, now is your chance.”To become an e-mentor, log on to www.flabar.org. Once there, click on “Professionalism,” which appears in the left hand blue filed. Then click on the “I want to be a mentor” link. Once you have read and signed off on the requirements, enter your name and Bar number. You will then receive a confirmation e-mail and the name and e-mail address of your protege.