In May and December each year, new graduates fresh from law school have to make the shift from student to legal practitioner. This often seems like a daunting task, but new grads don’t have to do it alone! The Dallas Bar Association’s Transition to Law Practice Program provides mentors to newly licensed attorneys that help them develop a network of contacts in their area of interest. State Bar of Texas Podcast host Rocky Dhir talks with Anna Rol, who entered the program as a mentee and now serves as a mentor and previously co-chaired the program.
State Bar of Texas Podcast
Now What? — Tips for the Transition from Law School to Legal Practice
Intro: Welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, your monthly source for conversations and curated content to improve your law practice, with your host Rocky Dhir.
Rocky Dhir: Hi and welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast. Now what? That question gets asked every year in December and May when law students graduate and become lawyers.
Well for a few months at least, those new graduates focus on the bar exam. Once they pass, they revisit the question, now what? Making the move from being a student of the law to a practitioner in the legal profession can be daunting to say the least. Luckily there’s help.
Anna Rol is living proof that not all heroes wear capes. She’s the former Co-Chair of the Dallas Bar Association’s Transition to Law Practice Program and has been involved in that program for the past five years. Anna knows all about how to successfully make that transition. She graduated from law school in 2014 and currently practices plaintiff’s side pharmaceutical litigation at Baron & Budd in Dallas.
Anna will help us shed some light on the transition to law practice and how both mentees and mentors can get involved. Anna, welcome.
Anna Rol: Thank you. Glad to be here Rocky.
Rocky Dhir: Absolutely. So tell us a little bit about this program, I have to admit I’m kind of intrigued. What’s involved in it? Kind of gives us a high-level overview if you don’t mind?
Anna Rol: Sure. So lawyers in Dallas and the surrounding area are really lucky to have this program. It’s specifically a mentoring program for newly licensed attorneys. Something to help them, get involved in the networking side of the practice of law, some mentees come as I did when I first started as a mentee in 2016 without employment and are looking for a job as well as looking to make connections and get involved in the Bar Association side of the practice of law.
Rocky Dhir: So that’s how you got involved you are actually a mentee, you went through the program from that side of it?
Anna Rol: Correct, that was my first introduction to the program as a mentee and I was really fortunate to be paired with a great mentor, a great small group advisor and really made a lot of connections, a lot of friends, my small group advisor actually was the Maid of Honor in my wedding last year.
Rocky Dhir: Oh wow, that became a lifelong friendship.
Anna Rol: Absolutely.
Rocky Dhir: Wow. Okay so now you said there’s small groups and obviously, there’s also one-on-ones I’m assuming between mentors and mentees. So tell us a little bit about that. What are those small groups consist of? What do you do in those groups and then how do the mentors and mentees interact in this program?
Anna Rol: So the program is really designed to help the mentees make as many connections as possible. Each mentee is individually paired with a mentor who’s always a well-established lawyer in Dallas with many years of experience. The small groups and the advisors were added in around 2015 or 2016 as a way to help bridge the gap between newly licensed brand new to the practice of law and very experienced established partner in a big law firm.
So the advisors each small group is made up of about half a dozen mentor-mentee pairs. The advisors are attorneys who are more in the three to five year practice range. And what they do is they organize small group meet-ups, networking events, happy hours, I did one time a morning yoga session at the Clybourne Park, it’s a small group meet-up.
And so the advisors are there to help facilitate connections between the mentees and the mentors and also to get the group together so that mentees can make even more connections than just their individual mentor.
Rocky Dhir: So is the focus really then more on networking or is there kind of nuts and bolts about law practice?
Anna Rol: Both. We also do each month of the program which runs from approximately January through September of every year. We have CLEs, which are always designed specifically for new attorneys including CLEs on how to avoid malpractice, other nuts and bolts type practice tips. There’s always the peer assistance program always presents one of the CLEs to talk about mental health and how to avoid those pitfalls and be happy and healthy while also very busy in the practice of law. So we had a lot of that side of it.
The mentors of course they — the tips that they provide range from specific practice areas, we always try to pair mentees and mentors based on practice interests. So that if you’re interested in practicing criminal defense law, you’re not paired with someone who does civil litigation.
Rocky Dhir: Sure.
Anna Rol: Of course, it’s not a perfect system, it’s based on our — who we have volunteer as mentors in a particular year but we really do our best to make pairs that make sense. So that the mentees get the best possible mentoring.
The small group advisors are really more for the networking side of it to sort of keep the momentum going, keep everyone engaged in the program with additional events and also so that the mentees and mentors can all get to know each other within their small groups and have the opportunity to make those additional connections and to get additional insight from different perspectives at the different mentors in the group.
Rocky Dhir: So I got to say this sounds like a really kind of well-oiled machine, I mean it’s got a great structure to it and obviously, a lot of thought has been put into it. Who came up with this? Was it an individual a group? Do you have any insight on that?
Anna Rol: Sure. So the program has been around since 2008. It’s actually hosted by the Professionalism Committee of the Dallas Bar Association. So it has a group of great attorneys who really have a lot of experience putting on programs, the Professionalism Committee also puts on the State Bar of Texas’ Day of Civility every year.
So they certainly are well equipped to make it a well-oiled machine. We’ve been — every year, we collect feedback from the advisors and the mentees and other participants on how we can improve, one of those improvements was actually the small groups led by the advisors that I mentioned earlier that started in around 2014 I believe.
And Andy Jones another attorney in Dallas who’s been involved in the program every year that I’ve been and more beyond that. He was really influential in coming up with the idea of having the small group advisors and having the advisors really be the sort of liaison to help the mentees feel comfortable around the mentors and to facilitate those connections.
Rocky Dhir: So I’m trying to think back to some of the challenges I had when I was starting out in practice and granted I’m a little slow on the uptake so I had probably more challenges than most. But I remember one of my most stressful experiences was getting ready for my first deposition and I was like I was sitting there with books and I had all my objections laid out and the other lawyer who came to this deposition had been — had done this dozens of times and was very comfortable with taking depositions.
So is that something that if I was a mentee in the program, however many years ago, is that something I would have been able to talk to my mentor about and say what do I do in a deposition? How do I prepare for this? What’s a good deposition versus a bad deposition? Is that a pretty good example of something I would get help with?
Anna Rol: Absolutely. The mentors are there to answer the mentees’ questions. They meet up on a one-on-one basis throughout the duration of the program and hopefully beyond. I mean the idea is that the connections that the mentees and other participants make in this program will continue beyond that individual year. And we also encourage mentees that are really enjoyed the program and got a lot of out of it to come back as advisors in future years and eventually mentors themselves.
In fact, the professionalism committee also recently has been doing deposition workshops. So another goal of the program is to get these new lawyers involved in the Bar Association, not just DBA, but also DAYL and other — there are a lot of programs that Dallas has. So it’s also an introduction to the bar and to CLEs to the Belo Mansion and to finding other opportunities for them to grow as newly licensed attorneys in this area.
Rocky Dhir: So I wonder is the DBA alone in this or other Bar Associations within Texas or even nationally that have a similar type of transition to law practice program?
Anna Rol: I know that mentoring has — there’s been an emphasis on that sort of nationwide. I don’t know if any other program that is specifically set up and structured such as this one designed to be a year long program with the individual mentor mentee pairings as well as the small groups.
Dallas Bar is a little sui generis anyway with having the Belo Mansion as a set meeting space for CLEs and other bar events. So part of our goal of course is to introduce the bar and the Belo to the new mentees and to get them involved.
Recently, we started having to kickoff event for the program the same night as the DBA’s New Member Reception. So we plan it so that at the end of the kickoff, we can send the mentees and mentors over to the New Member Reception to enjoy what is always a great event, and also to help them be encouraged to get involved and to participate in the DBA as a whole instead of just this program.
Rocky Dhir: I can tell that — I can tell you really benefited from being a mentee in the program because you through the Latin in, you said sui generis, and I am going to have to go look that up later, but clearly your mentor knew how to teach — this is I mean that’s, that’s Exhibit A ladies and gentleman, I rest my case.
But so now —
Anna Rol: Well, I am going to have to disagree with you there. Actually my mother is a classical scholar, so all — any Latin knowledge has to be credited to her. I just have to put that out there.
Rocky Dhir: So shout out to Anna’s mom for teaching her the Latin and the classics. So hey, do you want to say hi mom, it’s okay if you want to do that on, we have no problem with saying hi mom.
Anna Rol: I am always happy to say hi mom, hi mom.
Rocky Dhir: There you go, all right. So now let’s walk through a little bit about sort of the substance of the program. Is there a set curriculum? Because you’ve mentioned small groups and it sounds like maybe there’s even bigger settings. Is there like a curriculum that the mentors and mentees follow or is it really left up to each individual group to kind of decide what topics are going to cover?
Anna Rol: The set curriculum would be the program with CLEs that we put on. Those are always, as I mentioned earlier, designed to benefit new lawyers specifically. We try to keep as far as the small groups and the individual mentor-mentee pairs, because everyone has different backgrounds, everyone is looking to get something slightly different out of the program, whether that’s relevant to a specific area of practice or whether that’s someone who’s looking for a job versus someone who has the job and is just looking to succeed within that existing position.
So we try to — we let the mentors and mentees really design those individual mentoring sessions as they see fit, and the same for the small group advisors, we really give them leeway. We just ask that they hold regular meetings, at least once a month, but beyond that, what topics they want to cover within their small groups we let them tailor that to the individuals in the group.
So it really makes for — we get the best of both worlds. We get a curriculum with the CLEs on specific topics that we think would be best suited for the group as a whole and then we let the individual pairs and small groups tailor their meetings around the individuals who are in that group that year.
Rocky Dhir: Now you mentioned that it’s a one-year program. So when does it start and then when does it end? So what’s the typical life cycle of a mentor-mentee cycle?
Anna Rol: Well the work on the back end of course starts the previous year, but we have the kickoff events to start off the program typically around the end of January every year and then from there, we have regular CLEs and meetings every month running all the way through September, sometimes we have a — we try to have a few small group meetings at the very end of the year as well, at the end of the calendar year, just to keep everyone connected and to really foster those long-term relationships beyond the individual year of the program, but typically, it’s January through September.
Rocky Dhir: So is this really designed for folks that have already taken the bar exam and passed it or do you have people that are studying for the bar exam and still participating in the transition to law practice program?
Anna Rol: It’s really designed for attorneys who have taken the bar exam and either passed it or are waiting on results. There are other mentoring circles that are more tailored for law students who have not yet taken the bar, but this program is specifically for ones who have already passed that step. They’ve gotten through the bar exam and now, they’re at the point of okay, now what, how do I get a job or I’ve got a job, how do I succeed in this job as they start to realize that law school and law practice are more different than even they thought while they were in law school.
Rocky Dhir: Isn’t that the truth. Now looking back I guess is there maybe one or two things that you think as a mentee you learned that might have been a lot harder had you not been in the program? Can you pinpoint what that is because obviously you went through it? So was there may be a topic or two that you just said wow had it not been for this program, I would have been really lost or had a harder time kind of coping with this?
Anna Rol: Well, so I certainly consider myself a success story in the context of the program and it’s not so much what I learned, for me, it was more the connections that I made and the opening for me to get introduced to the Bar Association as a whole and to get more involved.
I had a wonderful mentor. She actually was the reason that I got my second associate position as a licensed attorney. So she was — and as it happened she had worked for my current law firm Baron & Budd previously. So I got some background to my own firm that way.
So I certainly I learned a lot, but really for me it was the connections that I made and what really spoke to me at the very kickoff event, the very initial meeting of the program, Kate Morris, another Dallas attorney, a great Dallas attorney.
Rocky Dhir: Sure.
Anna Rol: She got up and shared her experience of how she was in a dark place when she joined as a mentee from her practice side, because she was working in a bar, a drinking bar, not with Bar Association.
Rocky Dhir: Right, right, not the Bar Association, right.
Anna Rol: Exactly, and she, the mentoring program was really paved the way for her and introduced her into the actual practice of law and into getting — to getting employment as a lawyer and hearing her story and it really struck a chord with me because I was in the same position. I was looking for work, I went to law school in different states, so I didn’t have those connections and was finding it challenging as a newly licensed attorney to find a full-time position.
So learning that I was not alone and that there were people who had gone through the same experience and had practical tips to share to help me get on my feet and find my own full time position in the Dallas legal community, that was really helpful for me personally and it just — it made me enjoy the practice of law for the first time.
Rocky Dhir: And now you’re a mentor, so you’re paying it forward effectively?
Anna Rol: Yes, I took a lot from the program. I really wanted to give back. I found that I was — I’m quite good at organizing social gatherings, so I was very successful the next year when I served as an advisor and from there, I was asked to return as the co-lead advisor for the following year, and then as you mentioned at the start of this, last year I was the co-chair of the program.
So I really want to stay involved. I really believe in this program and I think it’s really important to have these mentoring opportunities for newly licensed attorneys.
Rocky Dhir: Do you think being a mentor has helped you become an even better lawyer or was it — did you get more from being a mentee?
Anna Rol: I think you get a lot from this program from any role within it. I know the mentors, we have a large group of mentors they come back every year after year and we’re really grateful for everyone who is involved in the program and for the contributions that everyone gives, and I truly believe that everyone finds it a rewarding experience whether it’s making new friends, whether it’s getting fresh perspectives, making connections that could lead to referrals or connections that could lead to promotions and new jobs.
So everyone has something to benefit from this program.
Rocky Dhir: What about you? What have you enjoyed most about it?
Anna Rol: Again, I really have to say I find the connections to be the most rewarding aspect of the program. Seeing friendships made, seeing business relationships made and being able to help foster that, as I said that my advisor when I was a mentee was Maid of Honor in my wedding. I keep in touch with many people from the program year after year, even ones that are not currently involved in the program.
Rocky Dhir: And how many mentors and mentees are currently involved? Do you have a ballpark?
Anna Rol: I actually don’t have the roster in front of me for this year’s program. It hasn’t quite kicked off yet, so I believe they’re still in the process of finalizing the pairings and the small groups. But there are typically about 10 small groups with about half-a-dozen mentor-mentee pairs within each group.
Rocky Dhir: Oh wow. So I went to law school, so I wouldn’t have to do math, but I think that’s about 60 lawyers and like 60 mentors 60 mentees if I’m doing the math correctly?
Anna Rol: Yes, that’s about right. It varies from year to year. We’re really fortunate that the local legal community, the big law firms all encourage their new associates who they know are recently licensed. They encourage them to sign up for this program.
So we have a lot of involvement from the community and we’re always looking to get the word out. So definitely tell your friends and hopefully, hopefully we’ll find some more mentors who want to foster young attorneys and new mentees who are looking for this type of mentorship.
Rocky Dhir: So let’s talk about getting involved, how do mentors or mentees sign up and be involved in this program?
Anna Rol: Kathryn Zack with the Dallas Bar Association is always the best point of contact and then she can put anyone who’s interested in getting involved in touch with whoever is in leadership for that particular year.
Rocky Dhir: And in terms of mentors, are there particular practice areas or firm sizes, is there any sort of area that you need a particular emphasis in? Where you say hey, we don’t have enough mentors who fit the following criteria or do you have a pretty good mix all across the board?
Anna Rol: We have a pretty good mix every year. It really varies so much from year to year, just depending on the particular group of mentees that sign up for a particular year and what their interests are, and then the mentors who volunteer for that year.
So, it really — really it’s more in numbers, we’re just looking for the only criteria that we have whether we set for the mentors is experience level. We want well-established attorneys to serve as mentors, that’s not to say that there’s not a place for attorneys with a little less experience; that is exactly what the advisor role is for.
Attorneys that don’t quite have the experience level yet to be a mentor but want to be involved and want to help mentor themselves, they get to serve as a small group adviser and still serve a very important role within the program.
Rocky Dhir: So I’m going to ask you one final question and I’m going to see — I’m curious to see what your thoughts are on this. Looking back, having been a mentor having — serving as a mentor and having been a mentee, when you look back if you could give — if you could give one piece of advice to say 3Ls who are about to enter the law or newly minted lawyers who just passed the Bar exam what piece of advice would you give them? What do you think they need to know before they go out and embark on this career?
Anna Rol: Well, the old saying of just showing up is half the battle, I think really applies. Our biggest challenge in the program is having the mentees stay engaged and stay actively participating within the program.
Rocky Dhir: The mentees — it’s getting the mentees to stay engaged. Wow, that’s interesting. Okay.
Anna Rol: Well it comes down to, they are in their first associate position, those are the ones that have the harder time staying engaged because they’re really busy and it’s something that the practice of law is busy, they don’t want to miss work time or office space time, so they’re concerned about carving this little bit of time for themselves, but it’s so important for attorneys at any level to be involved outside of the office whether that’s personal hobbies or Bar association activities.
I think it’s really important for our mental health as humans, we’re social creatures, we need that social interaction and to have it with people who are doing the same type of work that we’re doing is just a great way to share stories, to learn from each other and to make those connections that can lead to additional business contacts and it can lead to additional jobs. And so really making the time to be involved, even though it can be challenging at times to make that time, I find it really enriches the practice of law as a whole.
So that would be my biggest piece of advice is don’t just get stuck to being in the office and focusing on your individual job at hand but also taking the time to be involved in the community and to give back to that community and also to reap the rewards of being an active member and having those connections and friendships outside of the office.
Rocky Dhir: Well, great advice from a great mentor. Unfortunately, that is all the time we have for today. I want to thank my guest Anna Rol.
Anna, thank you so much.
Anna Rol: Thank you so much for having me, Rocky. It’s been a pleasure.
Rocky Dhir: Absolutely, and of course, I want to thank you for tuning in.
If you liked what you heard today, please rate and review us in Apple podcasts, Google podcasts or your favorite podcasting app.
Until next time, remember, life’s a journey, folks. I’m Rocky Dhir, signing off.
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