Mentoring Should Be Mandatory

In the practice of law, mentoring should be mandatory. This is especially true in criminal defense where life and liberty are on the line in each and every case.

Some lawyers practicing criminal defense simply hung a shingle and opened a practice. Others are former prosecutors. In either instance, mentoring is key.

Prosecutors know how to prosecute. They get on the job training. They step in to try cases immediately. This gives them the practice in front of the court and jury. This gives them confidence in their trial skills. But, it doesn’t teach them to defend. It doesn’t necessarily teach them to preserve error. It doesn’t necessarily teach them to think outside the box. And it certainly doesn’t teach them compassion for situations and circumstances.

I was a prosecutor for over 5 years. I knew how to try a case. I knew how to present arguments. I knew how to talk to a jury. But, that doesn’t mean I knew how to defend people accused of crimes. Sure, I knew the law. Sure, I knew how to research. I even knew how to write trial briefs. But did I know how to defend? Not really.

I was fortunate though. I had many great mentors willing to help me. I was able to call upon those who had been practicing defense for years and seek their input and assistance. Great lawyers like Nicole DeBorde, Stanley Schneider, and many others helped me. I also attended (immediately) my first of many TCDLA defense CLEs.

At the time, I’m not so sure I recognized it as mentoring, but the defense lawyers I immersed myself with certainly were mentoring me. They opened my mind to a different thought process. They taught me nuances I had never considered. And, they taught me to do it all without the use of a “badge” since no one wants to help a defendant.

Last week, the Texas Indigent Defense Commission and National Legal Aid & Defender Association published their report on Indigent Defense Mentoring in Texas (below). Their report highlights the importance of mentoring and the available programs in Texas. I have been fortunate enough to participate in both of the Harris County programs as a mentor. Serving as a second-chair mentor and as a FACT mentor not only helps the younger lawyer but raises the bar for criminal defense – indigent or otherwise. I am also fortunate to assist with TCDLA’s training through speaking and course directing. Training on the “law” is one thing, but training in “defense law” is completely different.

Having been mentored and now mentoring, I can say without a doubt mentoring should be mandatory. And, luckily I was fortunate enough to have had great mentors!

You can download and read the Mentoring report here: tidc-nlada-attorney-mentoring-report

Not only do I believe mentoring should be required, but also there is an argument to be made that it is required under the State Bar Disciplinary Rules. In a recent guest blog on the State Bar Blog, Rehan Alimohammad explains:

Why should we mentor or help other attorneys? The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct states, in the first paragraph of the Preamble, that a lawyer has a special responsibility for justice. In the fifth paragraph of the Preamble, there is more specificity when it states, “… a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession.” Is there a better way to impact the quality of the entire legal profession than mentoring or giving advice to a young attorney? The Preamble does state later that use of the word “should” in the rules means the lawyer has professional discretion. So, there may be no violation of the rules for failure to mentor.