Oh Where Have All the Good Mentors Gone?

In the legal profession, as in many other professions, the art of mentoring is being slowly replaced by practicums, co-op placements, and a form of articling where the focus is on billing as opposed to learning. I know of very few firms anymore that will pay a decent salary to allow a student-at-law, in return for for shlepping volumes of materials, the privilege of sitting and observing a day or two of a serious trial or complicated motion. And I do mean observe. Not take notes or chase down some last minute research, but just sit and take it all in. I dare say I learned more in 2 days in the gallery of a courtroom at the old 145 Queen Street West family court observing an acrimonious divorce trial (are there any other kind?), where the wealthy but estranged spouses were represented on one side by my mentor, the late (all too soon, sadly) H. Douglas Stewart, Q.C.  and the esteemed Malcolm Kronby, than I did in 3 years of law school. I was afforded the opportunity to witness: the style and substance of oral advocacy at its finest; the art of simple but effective cross-examination; the obvious and not so obvious benefits of knowing your case inside-out and backward; as well as a perfect interplay of fearless advocacy and courtroom decorum; not to mention the civility with which the each litigator treated his adversary and his adversary’s client.If what I see of young lawyers in court and at discoveries lately is any indication, I can infer that all too often this sort of mentoring is not part of most firms’ articling programmes. True, being an effective mentor comes at a short term financial cost. It takes you away from otherwise billable hours. It means there are times where you could have your student, junior, law clerk or paralegal at their desk producing but instead you take them to court with you. However, in the long run this will pay high dividenends to your firm, your clients, and you personally, not to mention the profession at large. And we all owe that to each other and the public who place their trust in our hands. After all, good mentoring, not unlike good parenting, is more about leading by example rather than by lecture.