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Have you ever shown someone at work or at home how to do something that you thought was so easy? Something that you took for granted that anyone would know how to do, but the other person was so glad you showed them how it was done? If you have experienced this, from either side, you have participated in the basics of “mentoring” at its finest. Defined by Webster’s Dictionary online as “a trusted counselor, coach or tutor,” I am quite sure that all of us have served in this role at either home or office. That said, how many of you really know how important it is to be a mentor and to have a mentor in your professional development. When a paralegal graduates from school, starts a new job, is assigned a new task or reports to a new person at work that is definitely a time one would need a mentor. If you have ever found yourself in that position, you will undoubtedly know what I am talking about here: you have questions you may think are elementary, obvious, or just plain stupid, and you are afraid to raise them with either your coworkers or heaven forbid, your direct supervisor. So where is a good paralegal to turn? If you are fortunate to have been assigned to a mentor in the firm, like the program initiated at Morgan Lewis & Bockius, is exactly where you would go. According to Susan Strong, senior paralegal for litigation training, “Our mentor program allows our employees to have someone they can ask the seemingly mundane questions without feeling they are bothering someone at work. They know they have been assigned a mentor so both the mentor and the ‘student’ have the expectation of helping each other without embarrassment.” So you are enrolled in a college or paralegal school where you have a mentor assigned to you, such as the associate’s degree paralegal studies program at community college of Philadelphia where every student initiating in the program is assigned a mentor in their first course. As Ted Faigle CCP class of 2005 said, “The paralegal mentor program is one of the most valuable parts of the curriculum. It gets you out of the classroom and right into real-world law exposure.” Ted is currently employed by the University of Pennsylvania. But what if you are not fortunate enough to have a program at either your work or your school? What do you do then? Here are my suggestions to ensure that mentoring works for you: Start a program- or ask your employer and /or school to start one. Even if you are presently an alumni, there is no reason why the alumni association, in conjunction with the school, cannot get that program up and running with your help, of course. Robert Hrouda, former president of the Philadelphia Association of Paralegals, was very instrumental in facilitating mentorship during his tenure. “Mentorship is key to the future of the paralegal profession,” explained Hrouda. “If our ‘students’ become members down the road, we will truly strengthen our profession.” Each year PAP hosts an Annual Student Forum where members reach out to current students. The forum continues to draw capacity crowds. Get your own mentor. OK, I am sure you are asking how? The answer may be right in front of you, in your job, your church, health club or anywhere else you spend time. Does a mentor have to be in the legal field? Not always, there may just be a very wise person in your network of contacts who can give you advice based on their perspectives unrelated to law. A friend of mine who was looking for a new career adopted her own personal board of directors culled from a range of professions and whom she asked for advice from time to time. People are usually flattered when you ask them to be a mentor for them. Most of the time they respond positively to the request. Who are the type of people you should ask to be your mentor? One school of thought thinks you should find someone you have something in common with so you can form “bonds quicker with them and get on to the business at hand, helping you in your career. Personally, I like to tell my students to stretch themselves and find someone very different from themselves get themselves out of their “comfort zones,” so to speak. That way they can learn new insights they would otherwise not have been exposed to. That advice is not always accepted, however. Another word to the wise: join your local or regional paralegal association and become active. Every area of the law has a committee or section, including professional Development, so there is always something of interest. And, most importantly, someone for you to reach out to when you need a counselor, coach or tutor. For those practicing paralegals in law firms, the corporate and nonprofit sectors, or with government entities, if you have just a half hour to share and be a mentor, the Paralegal Studies Program at Community College of Philadelphia could always use your help for its expanding mentor program. It only takes one visit with a student and who knows, they may turn around and be a mentor for you one day. JANE BRESLIN JACOBS , an attorney, may be reached by e-mail at [email protected] for further information on the mentoring program at Community College of Philadelphia.

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