Nearly two years ago, the Washington State Bar Association launched a creative new way for lawyers to earn free MCLE credits through one-on-one mentorships. It’s a program that deserves your attention.
Although the Self-Directed Structured Mentoring Program may not have the catchiest name, the system behind that mouthful of syllables is elegantly designed to encourage lawyers to formally pair up to share professional knowledge and experience. Let’s call it “SDS” for short.
Most attorneys like to share what they have learned, whether it’s technical expertise or how to survive and thrive in the legal world. Since the dawn of the profession, informal mentorships have made better lawyers and provided a great source of satisfaction for those involved. SDS opens a way to take some of these mentorships to a higher level. By setting up a few basic expectations in advance, the program helps assure that time spent in SDS mentorships is focused and meaningful. It also assures that the mentoring time is worthy of MCLE credit.
The Washington Supreme Court, the WSBA’s MCLE Board, and the Bar itself is making it easy and non-bureaucratic to establish an SDS mentorship.
Last spring my mentee and I had an orientation meeting and signed a one-page mentoring agreement. We also laid out, in a simple mentoring plan, a variety of subjects we planned to cover in the months ahead. The forms are refreshingly clean and common sense They gave us enormous flexibility in selecting topics and in how and when to hold our mentoring sessions. After a few mentoring sessions, the mentor and mentee can individually prepare a short evaluation of the time they’ve spent and then report their hours for credit. By October, our in-person and telephonic sessions had added up to almost a dozen credit hours.
While SDS mentorship is a great way to encourage teaching substantive law and planning for a legal career, it’s worth noting a few things SDS mentorships are not. They aren’t aimed at creating attorney-client relationships, they’re not ways to share legal work, and they’re not a substitute for the guidance and management that comes from within a law firm.
Through the Self-Directed Structured Mentoring Program, I have been able to earn a handful of MCLE credits by passing along to a young attorney things gained from 37 years of practice. Under other circumstances, an SDS mentorship might be a good avenue for a young lawyer to guide an older one through the maze of emerging technology. Regardless of which direction the mentoring flows, this is a well-designed program that promises real benefits to the participants and the profession.