When you are the IndyBar president, you’re invited to the Admission Ceremony for new admittees by the Indiana Supreme Court. I hadn’t been to a ceremony since our daughter was admitted to practice law about eight years ago, and before that, it was my own swearing in ceremony. I was surprised by how many new lawyers we have—363!
The Indiana State Bar Association has an appropriately dominant presence at the ceremony and afterward at the reception. As everyone probably remembers, the ISBA hands out printed copies of the Oath of Attorneys and that Oath is framed and hanging in a lot of lawyers’ offices. The Northern and Southern District courts of Indiana are represented, and this year Magistrate Judge Collins spoke on behalf of her colleagues in the Northern District and Chief Judge Young spoke for the judges in the Southern District. Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik spoke on behalf of the Indiana Court of Appeals and, of course, the Chief Justice Rush spoke for the Supreme Court, with Justice Rucker providing closing comments.
There were two overarching themes to the remarks. First, the importance of integrity and collegiality were mentioned many times. As we all know, there will be some from this class of new admittees who didn’t hear this important message and who will earn reputations for venomous, ad hominem arguments. History tells us that some will have to respond to a grievance or a disciplinary complaint. When I was in practice many years ago, I remember dreading picking up the phone when an attorney with such a reputation called. I just knew it was going to be unpleasant. Lawyers work very hard to make a good living. Nothing is gained, and much is lost, by such behavior.
This is even truer in the courtroom. I know that all courts are trying to do as much telephonically as possible to keep the costs down for the attorneys’ clients. I am very supportive of this effort but, sadly, the personal touch is lost on the phone. It’s an extension of the impersonal nature of emails. It’s so much harder to be rude to someone face-to-face. Plus, most attorneys will take advantage of being in the courtroom with opposing counsel to resolve their issues without me even being in the room. I was on a judicial panel in the afternoon of the Admission Ceremony and when asked what the judges see for the future of the practice of law, overwhelmingly they responded that they foresee nearly every court appearance, short of a jury trial, being held via videoconference. I hope that happens after I retire.
The second theme that resonated at the Admission Ceremony was that the practice of law is rough for new lawyers these days. However, I think there’s reason for optimism. I have attended several gatherings recently where Dean Andy Klein of the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law has cited the school’s most recently released employment statistics, and I’m confident it’s representative of all of our fine law schools. Ten months after graduation, more than 90 percent of the graduates were working in a field that was “JD required” or “JD preferred” (think corporate compliance officer, for an example of JD preferred).
Now, I assume that a higher percentage who reported working in a JD required position are doing so by hanging out their own shingle. We all sort of shudder when we hear a young lawyer has hung out a shingle because mentoring is critical in this profession. I know several young lawyers who hung out their shingle, but they did it in association with established lawyers who were available to mentor them. So, if there are more solo lawyers than before, I’m assuming many have developed formal or informal relationships with established practitioners who are available to answer questions and give guidance.
The IndyBar has many mentoring programs designed to provide helpful professional relationships for our newest members. The Women and the Law Division has a wonderful program. I made two of my best friendships with young female lawyers by participating in this event. We have gotten together regularly for the past couple of years for lunch and dinner. I hope our friendship will last for many years.
The IndyBar also has Mentor Connect, organized by the Professionalism Committee. I’ve connected with a very smart and accomplished lawyer at SalesForce. I’m not sure I’m much help to her, but it’s been a lot of fun getting to know one another. The Indy Attorneys Network also offers a monthly matching service for members. While I haven’t participated in this one, my predecessor, John Trimble has, and he raves about it.
I’d encourage anyone who is just starting out, or someone who wants to meet interesting people, to sign up for one of these programs. If you’re the mentee now, I hope you’ll be the mentor one day. And, if this profession has been as good to you as it has been to me, I hope you’ll pay it back by being the mentor that you once had.
We all know the old saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” While knowledge is certainly crucial, the importance of building these connections cannot be overstated. For a young lawyer, a mentor can be someone who answers a tricky question or provides guidance in a sticky situation. For us more senior members, a mentee can provide the refreshing insight that we may need from time to time. And for all of us, there’s nothing better than a friendly face during our work day. Reach out. Help each other. You might even make a friend.