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Rookies & Veterans meet in Wake County pilot program

A pilot program in Wake County seeks to match law students and fledgling lawyers with experienced hands for a touch of old-school mentoring

David Donovan//December 3, 2013

Rookies & Veterans meet in Wake County pilot program

A pilot program in Wake County seeks to match law students and fledgling lawyers with experienced hands for a touch of old-school mentoring

David Donovan//December 3, 2013

Campbell Mentoring 1WEB
Raleigh attorney Ed Gaskins (left) talks with Campbell Law School student Sarah Farris. Photo by Brandon Yopp, Campbell Law School

It was the sort of thing that might have been commonplace for new lawyers a generation ago, but an opportunity that many of them don’t get these days.

Sarah Farris, a third-year student at Campbell Law School, sat across a desk from esteemed attorney Ed Gaskins at his office to pick his legal mind. For her first question, Farris started at the beginning: What made Gaskins want to become an attorney in the first place?

The two were brought together by a pilot program launched by Campbell Law School and the Wake County Bar Association. The program seeks to match new and soon-to-be lawyers with experienced attorneys who can mentor the new generation.

The need the program hopes to satisfy is undeniable. With so many law school graduates entering the profession each year, it’s a challenge for many of them to find experienced mentors to provide the sort of coaching that attorneys of the previous generation were more likely to receive.

“Studying the law and practicing law are two very different endeavors,” Farris said. “It’s my hope that forming a positive mentor-mentee relationship will help ease that transition.”

To that end, the Campbell Law Connections program will launch in January 2014 and include 40 third-law year students at Campbell and 10 fledgling attorneys from the Tenth Judicial District. The law school will pair each mentee with a mentor from a pool of 100 experienced Wake County lawyers. The pilot program will run through April. Campbell plans to extend the program in the fall to include its whole third-year class and run for a full year.

Gaskins, a partner at Everett Gaskins Hancock in Raleigh who was instrumental in getting the program started, said that so far as he knows, this is the first time a local bar and a law school have partnered to create a mentoring program of this kind. If the program is successful—and Gaskins was bullish on that prospect—he hopes it will serve as a model for other law schools and urban bar associations.

“Without mentoring, there’s no way to sustain the practice of law primarily as a professional endeavor to serve the public, as opposed to a money making business,” Gaskins said.

Gaskins praised the effort received from the Wake County bar, but said the resources that Campbell is putting behind the program will be crucial. Without such resources, a mentoring program would not be sustainable long-term, he said.

As part of the resources it is committing to the program, the school has named faculty member Zeke Bridges to serve as program director. Bridges said that getting buy-in for the program from the local bar was easier than many people expected it would be.

“I thought one of hardest jobs was going to be signing up attorneys, and that hasn’t been the case at all,” Bridges said. He said that the school hopes to have at least 200 mentors to pool from when the full program begins, and that the school is already getting calls from attorneys who want to participate.

Thus far, demand for mentors outstrips supply. The 50 participants in the pilot program were chosen by lottery from a larger pool of applicants, and as it turned out, none of the 10 new attorneys is a Campbell grad. Bridges said that to ensure good matches between mentors and mentees, it’s important to have a pool of prospective mentors that is larger than the pool of mentees. (The school has not yet paired specific mentors and mentees; Farris and Gaskins were introduced as part of a discussion about their aspirations for the project.)

Each mentee will complete at least 15 hours of activities, which could include watching a mentor in court or meeting with the mentor for a discussion. Also, mentees will complete a reflection piece at the end of the program. Bridges said that one of his ambitions for the program was that mentors and mentees will stay connected after the program formally ends. He also hopes some life-long friendships would be created out of it.

The program is designed to have a focus on both professionalism and ethics, and a practical skills component that builds on the school’s curriculum.

“It’s a way of bridging the gap between walking out of the classroom and walking into the courtroom,” Bridges said. “We know it’s something crucial we have to do for the next generation of attorneys.”

Follow David Donovan on Twitter @NCLWDonovan

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