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“Experience is a good teacher,” wrote Minna Antrim, the 19th century epigrammatist. “But she sends in terrific bills.” Small wonder that young attorneys value the help of a good mentor — a friend and reliable guide to the vast differences between the study of law and the brass tacks of professional practice. Mentoring, of course, takes time — and a lawyer’s time, after all, is money. But lawyers interviewed on the subject agreed that no amount of money may settle the debt an attorney owes to a caring mentor. Errol B. Taylor, a patent litigation partner at New York-based intellectual property boutique Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto, seems to have taken on more than his share of mentees, including Tara A. Byrne, also a patent litigator at Fitzpatrick. “With Errol, I pretty much know how I’m doing,” said Byrne, 37, a licensed professional engineer before earning a J.D. in 1994 from New York Law School. She paused, and with a collegial nod to the boss, added, “Pretty much on an hourly basis.” Taylor is quick to remember his own junior days. “Associates don’t know much of what’s going on, it’s all such a mystery,” he said. “That’s why I think a big part of mentoring is providing information. “So many of the fears and concerns that associates hold are more conceived than real.” Paul Mourning, who is head of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft’s hiring committee and has for years been involved in the New York-based firm’s mentoring program, likewise recalled his own trepidations in starting at Cadwalader in 1983. Lucky for him, he was taken under the wing of William Moss, a retired partner and now counsel to the firm. “In my development, there was nothing more important than my mentor,” Mourning said of Moss. “And much to my delight, the mentorship hasn’t ended.” Associate retention and partnership development is surely the bottom-line goal of law firms’ mentoring programs — in particular, retaining women and minority attorneys. Fitzpatrick credits its mentoring program in part for the fact that in the past three years, half its new partners were women and 30 percent of its new hires were minorities. In New York firms, associates are usually paired with mentors — formally or casually — who happen to be partners in their practice groups. At Fitzpatrick, associates select mentors from anywhere in the firm. “When you choose your own mentor, a lot should go into your decision,” said Carl B. Wischhusen, 38, who handles patent application and prosecution at Fitzpatrick. “To begin, there’s rapport — simple comfort in talking about your career development. Maybe that means somebody you don’t work with on a day-to-day basis. “You also want to think about what kind of work your mentor can help get for you,” said Wischhusen, an electrical engineer before graduating two years ago from Georgetown University Law Center. “It should be a good fit that way.” Selected or assigned, Cadwalader’s Mourning urges associates to be inquisitive. “Don’t be shy about expressing your interests or asking questions,” said Mourning. “Associates who seem sincerely interested and ask thoughtful questions and make themselves available — well, that all goes a long way in a mentor relationship.” Such was the case with Marc A. McKitchen, 28, a patent litigator at Fitzpatrick. While still a chemistry undergraduate at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., McKitchen met Taylor in his capacity as a volunteer at Young Scholars Institute, a Trenton-based non-profit that provides information and guidance to college students. “It was clear to me from our first meeting that [Taylor] enjoyed his work, and his field of law,” said McKitchen, who went on from Rider to earn a master’s degree in organic chemistry at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, then a J.D. from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “When it came time to apply to law firms, I sent Errol an e-mail and said, Here are the firms I’ve been thinking about. What do you think? “He said they were all fine firms, but you should check us out.” Taylor indeed seems to have a quiet way in his work as a mentor. Yet another of his mentees, patent litigator Leisa M. Smith, had this to say: “I would talk to him whenever confronted by difficult issues — politics of the firm, what I needed to know next. He was always very calm, no matter how frantic I would be.” Smith, 37, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, was lured from another firm by Taylor. She was elected partner at Fitzpatrick in January of this year. Smith credits her ongoing professional relationship with Taylor as the classic definition of mentoring success. “One thing I can say that Errol instilled in me is that being a lawyer doesn’t mean just doing your own work,” she said. “It means helping junior people — and even your peers.” DOUBLE MENTORS Investment is a two-way street, said Daniel R. Donnelly, a corporate partner at the New York office of Torys and coordinator of associates in his department. “A good mentee is someone who recognizes the value of learning from someone who’s been there and done that,” said Donnelly. Last year, Donnelly imported a double-mentor model from his firm’s Toronto headquarters: Each junior associate has two mentors, a mid-level associate and a partner. Donnelly said the younger mentor is for “the dumb questions that juniors may not feel comfortable asking a partner, such things as social matters.” The partner mentor, he said, “plays more of a teaching role, doing at least one significant transaction with the junior associate in the first year and monitoring the associates afterwards, to make sure they’re working with a variety of people and experiences.” Donnelly suggested that lack of empathy is the classic pitfall for mentors. “The more senior you get,” he said, “the more difficult it is to remember how little you knew at the beginning.” Mentoring, despite the amount of senior lawyers’ time that it consumes, is well worth it, according to Cadwalader’s Mourning. “The time you invest in the people who are working with you,” he said, “pays big dividends down the road.”

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