Aristotle begins On Rhetoric by branding his topic as the art of identifying and using the available means of persuasion in any given circumstance. More than two millennia later good trial lawyers incarnate Aristotle’s definition. Passing the bar requires knowing the law. Excelling in the courtroom requires mastering how to use it - how harness the available means of persuasion to meet the burden of proof. The skill persuade, advocacy, is an art, which finds its expression differently in everyone who practices it. A style that works for one lawyer may not for the other.
And it is this search for a style that works that the MAJ Mentor/Mentee Program is designed to promote. We recognize that there are certain kernels of wisdom that can be learned in a classroom/CLE programs. But Rembrandt’s works do not hang in galleries because he attended a few classes. Rather, he mastered the art of painting by just “doing it.”
Recall that just doing it as a trial lawyer would mean trying and losing cases, until you find out what works for you. When the picture didn't evolve the way he saw it in his mind, Rembrandt just painted over the canvass, and started anew. When a case is lost, the client to whom justice has been denied is not afforded a do-over - a canvass that can be painted over, then re-painted. More importantly without guidance, lawyers handling their first plaintiffs’ cases are left to learn as they go along - otherwise known as the “school of hard knocks.”
Enter mentoring. A chance to work with some of the most successful and respected members of the trial bar, as you learn and grow into an advocate for the injured. Those who participate in the mentoring program will be paired with one or more members of the organization. Mentees, if you will, can count on the advice and guidance from mentors about the nuts and bolts of the practice, from intake to settlement, from suit to trial. Mentors are committed to meeting with mentees, and helping them learn our craft. This may involve help with a file the mentee is handling, or general practice pointers.
In addition to one-on-one mentoring, there will be a number of workshops designed to develop discovery and trial skills. For example, we are planning mock depositions, party/expert, and mock trials emphasizing how to open and close, and how to examine/cross-examine lay and expert witnesses. At these mock sessions, mentees will gain hands of experience, with personal critiques/commentary by senior members of the MAJ.
So that the mentees will emerge from the program with not only practical skills they will also be provided with a basic “tool kit.” This will include written materials containing practice pointers and sample litigation forms. Similarly, the MAJ is going to accumulate a collection of examples of a lawyer doing it right: videos from a trial or deposition the exemplify advocacy at its best. These will be made available to mentors and mentees to review.
Every one of those late night kitchen appliance ads ends with “now how much would you pay,” before they throw in a cap snaffler or Ginsu knife.
The MAJ’s answer to this question, to its members is “nothing.”
Yes, you heard that right. To all members of the MAJ, mentoring is free. Our members believe that the future of the civil justice system, and the access of the injured to justice, hinges on the next generation of trial lawyers - and their ability to master our craft.
So committed are to this mission, that we make one year of MAJ membership available to all new admittees considering a career in civil litigation (Join here!) At the end of the year, you are free to join as a dues paying member. That first, year, by the way, includes mentoring.
Our mentoring project will have its kickoff meeting on November 8 at Eggspectation in Ellicott City at 6:30 pm. Anyone, whether you are a member of the MAJ or not, is welcome to attend. Bring a friend. Drinks and appetizers will be served. Learn more and register here!
About the Author
James K. MacAlister is chair of the MAJ Mentor/Mentee Committee, as well as a member of the MAJ Board of Governors. He practices law at Saiontz & Kirk, PA in Baltimore.