Editor: What is new at MCCA?
Richardson: Last year, having just celebrated a tenth anniversary, we launched an effort to expand the services that we provide to the legal profession around three specific areas.
First, we want to increase the amount of research and education that we can make available. Normally MCCA is able to produce at most one research report every 12 to 18 months, and we would like to step that up. We are producing a new report that contains research on the current state of diversity at law firms as well as recommendations for the future. The landscape in law firms has changed significantly since our first report five or six years ago. After surveying the law firm community, we decided this time to focus more on individuals in law firms and ask them about their personal experiences and perspectives.
Second, we would like to develop customized training programs that translate our research and findings into practical programs of instruction for those in law firms and corporations who are responsible for advancing diversity in their organizations.
Third, we plan to focus more around our scholarship program and professional development for students and lawyers.
Last year our board announced that, to celebrate our tenth anniversary, we were embarking on a campaign to obtain pledges of $10 million by the end of 2010. We are calling this our 10x10x10 Campaign. Thus far we have raised a little more than $3 million in pledges, with two years to go.
Editor: I understand that MCCA has developed an innovative networking tool that will greatly expand the accessibility of mentoring services.
Richardson: Thanks to the proceeds from our early 10x10x10 donors, we have been able to launch our Kan-Do! Mentoring Program as well as fund our new report on the current state of diversity at law firms. A national online mentoring model for law students and lawyers is something that's never been done before: we seek to do for mentoring what sites like Match.com® did for dating. MCCA's new mentoring site allows people to fill out a profile and get matched for compatibility with available mentors - experienced lawyers of all demographics who likewise complete profiles identifying their areas of expertise, experience and interest. There are a number of students and lawyers living outside of major cities who do not have access to the same high-level role models who so regularly participate at MCCA events, and our online mentoring service will be a way to connect those mentees with our network of experienced lawyers, including both in-house and outside counsel.
You might wonder about the name we have chosen for the new mentoring program. In 2005, when Cari Dominguez was its chair, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission awarded MCCA one of its inaugural Freedom To Compete Awards in recognition of KAN DO!, our initiative promoting fair and open competition in the workplace. (To my knowledge we are the only legal association ever to have received an award from the EEOC.) The "KAN" stands for Knowledge, Access, Networks. We felt these were what law students and young lawyers in the profession needed in their early years in order to advance.
First, students need knowledge, and through our scholarship program we help them obtain their law degree. Secondly, students and young lawyers need access to the opportunities to be able to work on projects that assist their professional development and help them really hone their craft. Third, we all need networks of mentors and supporters.
To support the formation of networks, we have launched our Kan-Do! Mentoring Program supported by a network of mentors who take an interest in advising mid-career lawyers as well as students. We are focusing on students in the early stages of the program, but expect to expand the program to include practicing lawyers as well. Retired general counsel like Stacey Mobley of DuPont and Cathy Lamboley of Shell have expressed great support for the program and have agreed to be matched as mentors for a new general counsel or a senior in-house lawyer aspiring to that position. (See the interview of Stacey Mobley accompanying this interview.)
Editor: How will this new networking program work?
Richardson: To sign up as a mentor, a lawyer will go online and fill out a profile that includes such things such as her alma mater, her practice area or specific area of expertise, her geographic location, and any other information including "softer skills" that might be relevant, such as client service, communications, marketing or business development. Meanwhile, prospective mentees will fill out a profile indicating their needs and wants.
Editor: How does the service match mentors and mentees?
Richardson: Our service will match people around compatibility based upon percentages of commonalities and recommend to mentees a list of lawyers who potentially meet their needs. The mentee can then look at basic profiles, and simply by sending an email, he or she can open up a professional relationship that will likely prove beneficial to both parties. (When they fill out their profiles, our experienced lawyer mentors also state a limit as to how many mentees they can help so they're not bombarded by emails or overwhelmed with additional requests). In addition to helping people find their mentor/mentee match, MCCA has developed and currently offers a research report to help people learn how to mentor across differences, whether they be in race, gender, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation.
Editor: Is this a one-to-one mentoring or a group mentoring process?
Richardson: Although we are looking to set up group mentoring down the road, for now we're launching the program for one-to-one mentoring.
Editor: Could you provide specific examples of how the new program will be helpful?
Richardson: If I am at a law firm now but am moving in-house, I can specifically ask for someone to mentor me about being new to in-house. If I am a young lawyer new to a law firm and I am challenged because I am starting to manage client relationships, I may need someone to mentor me around good client relationship practices.
Editor: How does the service maintain interest in the program?
Richardson: We will be developing companion newsletters that we will send out periodically to all of our mentoring pairs to stimulate their interaction and suggest topics for discussion.
Editor: Are you currently seeking commitments from new mentors?
Richardson: We are making a big push, asking experienced lawyers to fill out profiles through the end of March. In early April, we anticipate opening it up first for students to sign up and request a mentor. We need to have a significant number of mentors in place first or the students won't be able to be matched with someone.
Editor: How are you going to measure the effectiveness of the program?
Richardson: Built into our process are reports benchmarking how many mentoring pairs we have established as well as how long they last. MCCA initially sets the pairs up for a six-month relationship at the end of which time they can choose to renew, to find a new mentor/mentee or to leave the process. We will ask for feedback from the mentees regarding how helpful the mentorship was; likewise, we will ask mentors how the relationship worked for them.
Editor: How is your program different from those available through the ABA or ACCA?
Richardson: Many bar associations have programs where they match mentors and mentees. These can be very effective, but I don't believe that any use a sophisticated online matching system, nor do they offer ongoing support to assist in developing the relationship. We are trying to reach people anywhere in the country and connect them with someone anywhere else in the country - so our members are not limited by geography or time zone in ways they historically have been.
Editor: How does your program have special relevance for the minority, woman or LGBT attorney?
Richardson: We are still hearing that lawyers who are in less represented demographics report that they have lesser access to mentors to assist with professional development, especially in their specific areas of need. For example, imagine a minority student living in Boise, Idaho - where there are few minorities - and this student is particularly interested in identifying or connecting with another lawyer of color with a certain practice or expertise. Or perhaps a student in Seattle has an interest in doing some sophisticated finance work and he wants to connect with someone in New York in a finance practice group. Our system is designed to suit either need.
Editor: Will the mentoring program also be helpful to the practicing lawyer?
Richardson: Absolutely. In fact, as the program expands I have designs on being able to offer mentoring to new general counsel: we plan to have retired general counsel offer to mentor new general counsel around the role of the general counsel, which, as we all know, seems to be expanding every day.
Editor: How can people sign up?
Richardson: Anyone interested in signing up should contact program director Peter Chin at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about the program can be found at www.mcca.com/mentoring. I would like to say as well that we at MCCA are very grateful for the generosity of our donors.
Published February 1, 2009.