President, Young Lawyers Section
March 2014, President's Message
Well, it’s definitely not much warmer than the last time I wrote, but the days are getting longer, so I have to believe that spring will be here eventually!
I attended my first ABA event in February in Chicago. Despite a slight luggage issue, it was a great time, and a wonderful experience. For those who have never attended an ABA event, I would urge you to do so. It really puts what we are doing into perspective when you can get outside of your own firm, town, and state, and see the big nation-wide picture. You will also realize how good we really do have it here in South Dakota. There were quite a few attorneys from South Dakota who attended, and it was very fun to get to know other members of our state bar who are truly leaders in the profession, the State Bar, and the National Bar. So thank you to Charlie Thompson, Bob Frieberg, Judge and Nancy Gienapp, Pat Goetzinger, Sarah Sharp Theophilus, and Francy Foral for your service, generosity, and camaraderie. And thanks to fellow young lawyers, Elizabeth Overmoe, Emily Wolf, and Amy Bartling for your willingness to participate in these national events.
The Young Lawyer Section held its Second Annual Boot Camp on February 21. We received great feedback from the participants. I attended the Boot Camp in Sioux Falls and we had standing room only. I was excited to see a couple law students even made it up for the event. So a big thank you to our speakers in both Rapid City and Sioux Falls, and also to Jennifer Williams, Kylie Riggins, and Elizabeth Overmoe for planning the Boot Camps and mixers. We will continue to make these worthwhile events.
For those of you who do not know, the Boot Camp program consisted of short sessions with topics in the area of: tips from the clerk’s office, discovery pitfalls and practice tips, the lawyer assistance committee, client interaction, a Judge’s insight into courtroom conduct, tips for working on community boards, and taking a case from start to finish. The feedback from both locations was incredible. But one thing I heard a few times, and from both locations, was a request for more information on the practice of law, and less topics on lawyers assistance and board membership. And this was not an isolated comment. To be honest, I get it, but I am also a little troubled by it. So of course I wanted to address it.
I am definitely nearing the end of my young lawyer tenure. So comparatively speaking, I have more experience in the practice of law than other young lawyers. But yet, I can still vividly remember starting my career, feeling like I didn’t know things that I should. Spending what felt like an eternity just trying to get the formatting on the pleading right. Waking up in the middle of the night with thoughts of missed statutes of limitations and discovery deadlines, plus questioning every piece of advice I gave to a client. So when young lawyers ask for more practical help with the everyday practice of law, I get it. I understand, and I empathize. And the Young Lawyer Section will continue to provide programs with practical skills. But what I don’t want to get lost in all of this is that practicing law is only part of what being a lawyer means.
Simply by virtue of being a lawyer people will ask your opinion on matters. Some will be law related, but some will not be. You will be asked to be on boards, and to volunteer in different capacities. And you should do these things. You may feel like you are so overwhelmed with trying not to commit malpractice every day that you cannot take on one more thing. But honestly, you can’t afford not to volunteer, and to give back. You will meet new people, make new connections, and make a difference where others cannot. I have addressed this topic thoroughly in past newsletters as well.
As for the lawyer assistance committee, I cannot express to you how valuable a committee this is. If you have started practicing law, then you are already aware of how stressful the practice of law can be. The more you learn, and the more experience you get, the more complicated your cases will become, and the dollar figures you are dealing with will continue to grow. You might think that life will settle down, but you will continue to get busier. And you need to learn how to deal with stress in a healthy way before all of that happens. Many lawyers don’t learn this skill, or there is a tipping point where unhealthy coping mechanisms develop. This might not happen to you personally, but it will probably happen to someone you know, practice with, or are friends with. You need to know where to go for yourself, but also for your brothers and sisters in the law.
When I graduated from law school I clerked in the First Judicial Circuit in Mitchell, SD. The Judge who was stationed in Mitchell, and whom I spent a majority of my time with was Judge Lee Anderson. About two months after my clerkship ended I learned that he had taken his own life. This was a shock, not only to me, but also to others who worked with Judge Anderson. Depression and stress in this profession is very real, and no one is immune to it. Unfortunately, lawyers all over this state have similar stories. Our state bar has taken a very active role in addressing these issues in an effort to keep lawyers accountable for each other, and to offer help when our fellow attorneys need it most.
I know that young attorneys are concerned about the nuts and bolts of practicing law, but there is so much more to this profession than the pleadings, and briefs you are writing. The practical aspects of being a lawyer will come, there will come a day when you pull up a pleading and you don’t have to fight with the computer for 20 minutes to make it fit on the page. But in the end, twenty years from now, no one will remember that set of Interrogatories you sent or the brief for Summary Judgment you wrote. So, please remember that the intangibles, the relationships you form, the service and time that you give, the lives that you touch, are what you will be remembered for. And that makes those sessions about service and lawyers assistance invaluable!
Kirsten M. Taggart
SD YLS President
Mentorship Application | Mentee Application
Bylaws of Young Lawyers
Top 5 Common Misconceptions About the
Hagemann-Morris Young Lawyer Mentorship Coin Program
5. As a mentor I will have to teach a young lawyer how to practice law.
This is a very narrow view of the mentorship program, and not at all an accurate description of the program. While it may be true that some young lawyers will need practical help, and may have practice questions, mentoring is truly so much more than just that. Young lawyers need to learn about civility, how we as a small bar interact with one another, how to balance work and life, how to bill, how to handle staff, or partners, or possible career changes, how to be an active member of the Bar, and their communities. Mentoring a young lawyer can take on many forms, and may include walking beside someone and helping them learn the practice of law. But really, it is helping them learn to live life as a lawyer.
4. I am a young lawyer and don't know exactly what practice area I want to be in, or I don't have a job yet, so I don't need a mentor.
Honestly, this is probably the time you need a mentor the most! While job searching, who better to help you market and network, than an already established attorney? Who better to give you feedback on resumes, interviewing, follow-up, etc., than someone who has been there and probably hired a few attorneys in their time? And if you're not sure which area you want to practice in, most South Dakota attorneys are general practitioners, and will be able to expose you to, and give you practical advice about, most areas of the law.
3. If I get a mentor/mentee that I don't get along with I will be stuck with them forever.
Everyone is different, and sometimes their expectations are different. If there ever comes a time when the mentee or the mentor does not feel that the relationship is beneficial any longer, that person can contact the Young Lawyers Board and we will find a new mentor/mentee for you. You absolutely will not be stuck, and you won't even have to send the Dear John letter!
2. I mentor young associates in my firm, so I don't need to mentor anyone else.
Some young lawyers are fortunate enough to end up in a firm large enough where they may have many mentors within that firm. But if you refer back to No. 5, and see that the scope of the program is so much larger than just the nuts and bolts of practicing law, you will realize your experience is invaluable to young lawyers outside your firm. I have heard grumblings that civility, or rather lack thereof, is becoming a huge problem in our Bar. If you have ever thought that someone needed to teach a young lawyer something about civility, you are right. And that someone might just be you. There are many young lawyers who are not fortunate enough to have mentors within their firms, or they might be solo practitioners. We are all South Dakota lawyers, so I would encourage you to look outside your firm's four walls.
1. I have a mentor in my firm, so I don't need another one.
First, mentors within your firm are invaluable, so please take advantage of everything they have to offer. Having a mentor outside your firm does not mean that you do not appreciate the mentorship you have within your firm. But, what if you are a mom and no one in your firm has kids, or what if you are a single guy and everyone in your firm is married with kids? Who do you talk to about the issues you face, that no one else is dealing with? Or who do you talk to when you have a question about your partnership track, or your salary, or your bonus, or a conflict within the firm? If you have a problem with depression or alcohol, are you more likely to talk to your mentor first, or a partner in your firm? It is invaluable to have someone that you trust, who only has your best interest in mind that you can talk to in confidence.
I hope that these five misconceptions have been cleared up and that there is a better understanding of the Hagemann-Morris Young Lawyer Mentorship Coin Program. If any of these misconceptions have been holding you back from applying as a mentor or a mentee, I would encourage you to fill out the application and submit it today!