Though they may serve the common purpose of advising and advocating for their clients, lawyers are unique individuals with different approaches to the practice of law. As such, each lawyer’s professional identity within the legal system will reflect the lived experiences and personal values they hold as individuals. But sometimes professional identity is not easy to define on your own! Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program director Ryann Peyton talks to hosts Tish Vincent and JoAnn Hathaway about the program’s model and how mentorship has positively affected Colorado attorneys at many stages of their careers.
State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast
Mentoring Professional Identity to Improve Lawyer Wellbeing
Intro: Welcome to State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast, where we talk about practice management and lawyer wellness for a thriving law practice with your hosts JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent, here on Legal Talk Network.
Take it away ladies.
Tish Vincent: Hello and welcome to another edition of the State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast on Legal Talk Network. I am Tish Vincent.
JoAnn Hathaway: And I am JoAnn Hathaway. We are very pleased to have Ryann Peyton, the Director of the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program as our guest today. Ryann is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. She is a former litigator, seasoned consultant, an advocate on professionalism, diversity and equity in the legal field. We will be talking about Mentoring Professional Identity to Improve Lawyer Wellbeing.
Tish Vincent: So Ryann, would you share some information about yourself with our listeners.
Ryann Peyton: Absolutely. So as you mentioned, I am a lawyer and I spent the first eight years of my practice in civil litigation, in medium to large-sized law firms and during that time I really focused on the problems of the profession as I saw them, diversity and inclusion, wellbeing issues, mentoring, and it got to the point where I felt like I had to do something to better the profession.
And so, I left the practice of law to take this position with the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program and now I get to spend my time working with new lawyers, young lawyers, lawyers in transition, helping them to connect with the professional development resources that will allow them to have a successful and fulfilling legal career.
Tish Vincent: Ryann, how do you define professional identity to new lawyers?
Ryann Peyton: So the guiding definition of professional identity is really just the way a lawyer views his or her role within the legal system. But I take it a little bit further than that and the way that I explain it to new lawyers is that your professional identity is not only the way that you see your role in the legal system, but the way that you operate within the legal system, the way that you interact with the stakeholders of the legal system; so clients, judges, opposing counsel, colleagues.
And all of those ways that you interact and ways that you operate within the system are based on the values, the beliefs and the lived experiences that you bring as an individual to the practice of law. And those values, beliefs and lived experiences are going to dictate how you practice, where you practice and whether you feel fulfilled by the practice of law.
And so because we all come to the practice with a different lived experience, with different beliefs and different values, we each have a unique professional identity that we bring into the profession.
Tish Vincent: The issue of professional identity, do you think it’s important for a new lawyer to develop that in order to be a successful lawyer?
Ryann Peyton: I do. I think that professional identity is really the foundation to a successful legal career and there are a couple of reasons for that. One, the research has shown us that simply going to law school actually changes our brain structure, changes the way that we process information certainly and changes the way that the chemicals in our brain respond to things like stress and trauma.
And so if we take at face value the fact that legal education and going to law school changes us as human beings, we have to think about how that changes our perception of ourselves, our internal identities, and there is this notion that for most lawyers we have what we call a thin professional identity, where essentially we are bifurcating between who we are as people, the values and beliefs that we have as individuals with who we are as practitioners.
So for instance, the folks who feel like they come to work every day and put on a mask, put on a persona to do their jobs and then they go home and go back to being themselves, and this notion of a thin professional identity can be very dangerous, because if you are constantly bifurcating who you are as a person and who you are as a practitioner, eventually that’s going to influence your mental health and wellbeing certainly, but also the way that you make ethical decisions in your practice and the way that you interact with your colleagues around issues of professionalism and civility.
And so if we are not talking about professional identity, if we are not trying to get away from that thin professional identity and move to something that’s more cohesive where our professional identity as lawyers is intersecting with who we are as individuals, it can cause a lot of problems down the road for lawyers.
Tish Vincent: Makes sense. You talk about defining professional success and you also help new lawyers to become aware of the indicators of professional success. I thought that was a very interesting point for people to think about more. Can you share your thinking on that topic with our listeners and I was wondering what are some of the most obvious indicators and how can they be cultivated? I know that’s a long question.
Ryann Peyton: Well, it’s not so much a long question; it’s more of a complex question in the sense that indicators of success are going to vary from person to person. But let me back up and just talk a little bit about why definitions of professional success and indicators of success are so important to professional identity.
When we all come out of law school I think there is this misnomer that we all have the same chances of success in this profession. We have all had the same education, we have all moved through the same checkboxes of going to college, taking the LSAT, going to law school, passing the bar, and so we think because we have all jumped through the same hoops, checked the same boxes that our experience in the profession is going to be similar, but we know that it’s not. We know that certainly some people find great success, some people end up leaving the profession and then there is everybody in between.
And so when we are looking at why people find success in practice or how they find success in practice, it really comes down to how they see themselves as individuals and as practitioners. And so helping lawyers, especially new lawyers, to create a definition of success that works for them is very important.
And so when we are working with new lawyers and asking them what does success look like for you, how will you know if you have been successful in the practice of law, a lot of times it’s a very difficult question for them to answer, it’s something they haven’t really considered, and if they have considered it, a lot of times they are just regurgitating what somebody else’s definition of success is; maybe a parent or a professor or a managing partner who has said this is what success as a lawyer looks like.
And so we try to work with them over time to help them create a definition of success that is unique to them and that may be a combination of intrinsic definitions of success. So for instance, I do this work because I am passionate about children or I am passionate about defense of indigent folks or other intrinsic motivations for why they do what they do every day.
It’s also going to involve some extrinsic motivators, certainly for some making partner or making money or moving up within the organization, getting awards for their work, and then of course successful client outcomes. We all are lawyers because we want to help the clients that we serve and so what are successful client outcomes for those individuals.
And so, usually their definition of success is somewhere in the middle of all three. So if you think of all three as a Venn diagram usually the definition of professional success for most lawyers is going to fall somewhere where there is overlap of all three ideas.
And so once we have gotten to the point of identifying what success looks like, then we have to figure out well, how is this particular individual going to find that success and that’s where it looks different from individual to individual in those indicators of success.
For some, it’s as simple as I am just a resilient person and I am going to be able to muddle through the difficult days of practice. So resiliency is a common indicator of success that we see in lawyers.
For some, it’s the ability to be agile and nimble in their practice. We see that with great trial lawyers who are able to think on their feet and adapt trial strategy very quickly.
And for others, it may be about writing and research and being able to create cohesive argument from a ton of data and different facts.
So those are just three that come to mind, but for every individual, your indicator of success is going to be very different. And so that’s really where mentoring comes in and working with individuals to figure out what those indicators are going to be for them.
Tish Vincent: Ryann, what are some of the levels of mentoring available to your participants.
Ryann Peyton: Sure. So in the CAMP Program we have really worked hard to develop a program that provides mentoring at all levels of practice. Even though most of our work is with new lawyers in their first three years of practice, we have mentees in our program who have been practicing law for 25 plus years and everyone in between, because we really feel as though mentoring is something that is important to a legal career at all stages.
And so we offer a variety of different programs, also because we want to make sure that we are not creating a one-size-fits-all or moving walkway type of mentoring experience. So in our program anyone can take advantage of individual mentoring, so one-on-one traditional type of mentoring.
We also have group mentoring or peer-to-peer mentoring where we have mentoring circles that are focusing on different practice areas, different lifestyle issues; for instance, one for parents who are also lawyers.
We have coffee mentoring for folks who just need to have a cup of coffee with someone and pick their brain about whatever is going on in their practice.
And then we have a trial attorney mentoring program where we pair up a mentor and a mentee to co-counsel a case together, so that new lawyers are getting access to the courtroom as early as possible and getting great feedback, real-time feedback on their trial advocacy skills.
So we have really created a diverse program where folks can find any type of mentoring that they may need at any point in their practice.
JoAnn Hathaway: That’s fascinating. I think that’s such an excellent model that you have in place in Colorado. Can you tell us a little bit about the history of how the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program came into being?
Ryann Peyton: Absolutely. So the CAMP program was started in 2013. It came out of a taskforce that was put together by our Chief Justice, who really felt as though mentoring was lacking in the legal profession, that it used to be when you came out into the profession someone would take you under their wing. They teach you how to do the job, introduce you to the community, it may be one day you’d even take over that practice, it was an old apprenticeship type of model, and that has really fallen away over the course of several decades.
And the notion of mentoring new lawyers as they come into practice has also fallen away and so our Chief Justice recognized that at the time and thought we need a program here that will allow any lawyer in Colorado to have access to meaningful mentoring should they wish to receive it.
And so, through the work of a taskforce over the course of about 18 months they put together the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program, and like I said, it launched in 2013, and in that first initial year we really just focused on new lawyers, so lawyers in their first three years of practice.
But what we found not surprisingly was that we were getting requests for mentoring from lawyers of all different practice expertise and abilities who maybe were in transition, were looking for some support and so overtime we built the program into what it is today.
Tish Vincent: Fascinating, and how do you get the word out about it? I’m interested in that. I think it must be somewhat challenging to let people know about this new program and that it’s available and encourage them to come in.
Ryann Peyton: Absolutely and one of the things that we do best as a program is collaboration and so we work very closely with the law schools here in Colorado, University of Denver and University of Colorado to get in front of their 3Ls to let them know that this is an available option for them as they’re coming out of law school so that we have a warm handoff from the law school mentoring programs into our program.
We actually speak to every new lawyer in Colorado whether they’re just new to practice or new to the State coming in on motion. There’s a professionalism class that every new lawyer in Colorado must take. We speak at that course and that’s where we get a lot of our new mentees. We work very closely with the Bar Association, the Colorado Bar and then all of the local bars as well to help them to push out to their members, the benefits of our program, but I will tell you that over the last seven years word of mouth is really what drives participation in our program that will hear from mentees who say the associate down the hall for me did this or my roommate did this and had a great experience, and so, I want to take advantage of the program.
JoAnn Hathaway: Ryann, I imagine you have eager young lawyers wanting to be involved in this, what about the seasoned lawyers, how do you get them on-board?
Ryann Peyton: Mostly we, we get them on-board through a combination of outreach through the local bars where they are in leadership positions, but what’s been interesting to find is that many of our mentors will actually come back as mentees.
So once we have invited them to be a mentor in the program they’ve worked with us as a mentor, it starts to make sense to them that maybe they could use some mentoring as well. And so we have a number of mentors who then — when they’re done serving as a mentor come back and seek to be a mentee in the program, and so that’s where we get those seasoned lawyers who are in transition and see the benefit of having some support in that transition.
Tish Vincent: That’s fascinating. That’s fascinating. Do you ever have people come in that are referred and they’re not happy to be there or is it completely voluntary that people want to come in?
Ryann Peyton: It’s a voluntary program. When the taskforce that put CAMP together was considering how the program should be built, we did look at making it a mandatory model as some states do. In some states every new lawyer is required to have a mentor for their first year and go through that program, but ultimately here in Colorado we decided that mandatory and mentoring just don’t go together, that it’s not very effective to force people into a professional relationship they don’t want to be in.
Tish Vincent: True.
Ryann Peyton: And so we decided to simply stick with a voluntary program. Every now and again we’ll get some mentees who have been referred to us because they are dealing with some disciplinary issues within the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel. They’re not forced to have a mentor or be there but it’s highly suggested that they get a mentor as part of the resolution to their disciplinary issues.
JoAnn Hathaway: Interesting, and then could you talk a little bit about collaboration or coordination with your Lawyers Assistance Program?
Ryann Peyton: Absolutely. Our program out here is called CoLAP, and CoLAP and CAMP are usually seen on the same tagline at every conference presentation or marketing because we work so closely together.
And the reason for that is because a lot of times when folks are coming to us for mentoring of course there’s the practical aspects of learning how to do the job, wanting to connect with the community and things like that that we can help them do through mentoring.
But what we hear from them a lot of times is issues of stress and well-being where they could use some additional support. Our mentors at CAMP are really designed to help you become a better practitioner and CoLAP is there to help you become a better professional, a better person and help with your well-being.
And so, there’s consistent overlap in the services that we’re trying to provide from lawyer to lawyer, and so because of that we work very closely and try as best we can to provide that holistic approach to every lawyer who seeks services.
Tish Vincent: Excellent. I think it’s a really remarkable program the way it’s organized and the outreach and the enthusiasm for it. So I’m really glad that you were willing to talk with us today. Can you think of any other points you’d like to share that we haven’t covered with the questions?
Ryann Peyton: I think I just want to reinforce that mentoring is something that every lawyer should welcome. It’s not just for the new lawyers, it’s a way to grow as a professional. And mentoring has changed, I think for a lot of seasoned lawyers out there they remember their law school mentoring program or some other program that maybe felt forced, maybe felt like it wasn’t as beneficial to them.
And what I try to tell people all of the time is that mentoring is different now. We’ve learned a lot about how to do this well and do this in a way that’s meaningful for lawyers, and so I encourage everyone wherever they may be to seek out the mentoring programs in their State or in their community and take advantage of it, because I think they’ll find that it’s much more meaningful than they might anticipate.
Tish Vincent: Let me ask one more question, how do you get the mentors themselves? How were those folks identified and brought into the picture?
Ryann Peyton: Initially when the program launched we created a pool of mentors based on who we saw as leaders within the legal community, people who we felt could provide the type of mentoring that we were trying to provide to our mentees. And overtime we’ve grown that mentor pool, we now have almost a thousand mentors across the State of Colorado.
We’ve grown that pool in two ways; one, we have mentors who come to us and volunteer, which is always lovely, but we continue to do outreach to individuals who we identify as leaders and mentors and folks who have the type of information expertise and communication skills to help serve our mentees. So, it’s really a combination of efforts.
But I’ll tell you this, when we started our program we were very conscious about making CLE credit available. And so, we are a CLE accredited program, but only 12% of the folks who come through our program claim that credit and that tells us that folks are not coming to the mentoring program for CLE, they’re coming because it’s beneficial. And that’s the same for mentors. We thought that CLE credit would be necessary to get mentors to be willing to volunteer and we found that that’s not the case. The mentors who work with us truly believe in giving back to the profession, wanting to improve the profession and help new lawyers and lawyers in transition to find success. And because that’s their core motivation that makes them even better mentors overtime, and so we’re very proud of our mentor pool, we’re very confident in it and they are all there for the right reasons.
Tish Vincent: That’s an impressive number, a thousand mentors across the State. We’re both very amazed at that. Well, this is a very, very interesting discussion. I am so grateful that you were willing to talk with us today.
Well, it looks like we’ve come to the end of our show. We’d like to thank our guests today, Ryann Peyton, for a wonderful program.
JoAnn Hathaway: Ryann, if our listeners would like to follow up with you, how can they reach you?
Ryann Peyton: Absolutely, so the best way to reach me is to go to our website, which is, coloradomentoring.org, Colorado Mentoring is just one word, so — and if you go to coloradomentoring.org you can learn more about the CAMP program but you’ll also find my contact information, my email and phone number, and I’ll be very transparent, I love to talk about this, I’m happy to chat with anyone who has questions. If you run a mentoring program in other states and want to talk about best practices, give me a call. If you want to talk about professional identity, give me a call. I love to talk about these things that I’m always willing to have those conversations. So, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
In the other aspect of our website I’d like to make clear is that we don’t copyright anything and we do that on purpose so that folks who are trying to build mentoring programs or improve mentoring programs can take our stuff and implement it in your own program. We’d love for you to not have to recreate the wheel. So please feel free to take anything you see on our website with respect to mentoring plans or toolkits or whatever works for you and go ahead and use those materials in your programs as well.
JoAnn Hathaway: Thank you Ryann.
Tish Vincent: This has been another edition of the State Bar of Michigan On Balance Podcast.
JoAnn Hathaway: I’m JoAnne Hathaway.
Tish Vincent: And I’m Tish Vincent. Until next time thank you for listening.
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