ST. GEORGE — When attorneys graduate from law school and become licensed to practice in Utah, they enter an adversarial world in which people’s money and personal liberties often depend on the outcome of a day’s work.
The Utah Bar Association is helping new lawyers gain a foundation of skills and ethics to meet the demands of that profession by sponsoring a mentoring program during the first year of practice, and other states are now taking notice of the state’s successes.
“I wish I’d had something like this when I was going through (my first year),” Utah Bar President Curtis Jensen said. “A lot of times we learn by hard knocks. … In law school you learn cases and the theories and the academic side of it, but the practical side — going out and being a lawyer and dealing with clients and taking a case and solving issues aren’t necessarily part of the curriculum. So we felt there was a need.”
Jensen, a partner in St. George civil law firm Snow Jensen & Reece, said the New Lawyer Training Program was established in July 2009 as a way for Utah attorneys in their first year of practice to gain insights from seasoned professionals and benefit from their existing networks of colleagues.
The program now has 869 volunteer professionals approved by the Utah Supreme Court as mentors for the newcomers, and as of this summer 862 new attorneys had completed the mandatory experience.
Tyson Horrocks, a former member of Jensen’s practice who now works in commercial litigation and employment law in Salt Lake City, said the mentoring program helped him get a variety of real-world experiences when he was still starting his career.
“Many times, as young associates, you don’t get your feet wet,” Horrocks said. “I think (mentoring) helps get the ball rolling. … It’s meant to kind of give you a variety of paths you can get some work in.”
Horrocks worked through a checklist of experiences he wanted to have under Jensen’s tutelage, learning about corporate law that involved drafting documents and, as a litigation associate, about appearing in court on behalf of clients.
At times, Jensen directed him to other attorneys to gain experience with the business client work they were doing.
St. George attorney Trevor Terry also chose Jensen as a mentor even though he always expected to practice law with his father, criminal defense attorney Douglas Terry.
“My focus in law is criminal defense and personal injury. I don’t handle much civil litigation,” Trevor Terry said. “(But) it is important that we at least have an understanding of everything. … Obviously, I work with Doug, my dad. I could have chosen him to be a mentor, but I decided he’s already mentoring me. What I wanted to get out of the mentoring program was (input from) one of the best civil attorneys.”
The program was honored by the American Bar Association with this year’s Gambrell Professionalism Award in recognition of the Utah bar’s innovation in creating a mentoring experience with quality controls, targeted developmental themes and continuing education credits.
An ABA news release issued earlier this year stated the program “has made a significant regional imprint, as other Western states have turned to Utah for inspiration and an effective program blueprint.”
Jensen said the mentoring program is also a key resource for ensuring attorneys learn the rules of ethics and civility they are expected to follow, whether it be in arguing a case in court or managing a client’s money as they “help people through the legal entanglements of society.”
“It reminds you that you are a member of a profession. A very noble profession,” he said. “You need to maintain (clients’) respect and honor. Your responsibility as the gatekeepers of fundamental rights. … So many times, we’re kind of the last resort.”