Most lawyers have a story of how someone or something affected them and gave them a reason to become a lawyer. What about after you became a lawyer? I have been practicing for almost 15 years and owe my career path to two attorneys who had a great impact on my career—and they do not even fully know the level of impact that they had. There was also another attorney who reminded me that not all attorneys believe that they should help other attorneys.
In 2003, I was bored of working in international tax law and needed a change. I took a pro bono asylum case and received one-on-one training in removal proceedings from late professor Joseph Vail, a former immigration judge. That training was something I used every day in removal proceedings for the next two years. He was there whenever I had a question. But, how did I end up doing removal cases every day? I went to breakfast one day with an attorney who had been licensed since 1969. I discussed with him how I really wanted to do immigration law but could not find a job with no experience. He said “Rehan, just do it yourself, and if you get an issue you cannot handle, I’ll help you.” These two lawyers made a tremendous difference in my career. But why did they do it? What did they get out of it?
A little later in my career, I got a reminder of how other attorneys view mentorship. As a young and inexperienced attorney in immigration law working on a family-based case, I asked an experienced attorney who had a bustling employment immigration practice a question. The response I got? “Why should I help you? You are my competition.” Fortunately, this has been the exception rather than the rule, in my experience.
Why should we mentor or help other attorneys? The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct states, in the first paragraph of the Preamble, that a lawyer has a special responsibility for justice. In the fifth paragraph of the Preamble, there is more specificity when it states, “… a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession.” Is there a better way to impact the quality of the entire legal profession than mentoring or giving advice to a young attorney? The Preamble does state later that use of the word “should” in the rules means the lawyer has professional discretion. So, there may be no violation of the rules for failure to mentor. But, should it not be our duty as attorneys to raise the quality of the field as a whole? The next time you see a client who is wronged by a young and inexperienced attorney’s mistake, imagine if that young attorney was mentored or advised by a more seasoned attorney and the mistake and harm was avoided?
I have met with many young attorneys in my career, either inviting them to the office or taking them to lunch. When they thank me, I respond with, “There were many who helped me, and I am just returning the favor.” But in fact, these young attorneys also help me. Whenever I meet with someone, I always try to learn something from them. There can always be a different way to look at something, or a different tool that you may not know about. The rules may not require us to mentor, but I would implore all of my colleagues to do so, not only for the entire profession and the public but also for yourself.
Rehan Alimohammad is a minority director of the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors and a partner in Alimohammad & Zafar, where he is in charge of immigration matters. He has been named one of the 5 Most Outstanding Young Texans in 2011 by the Texas Junior Chamber of Commerce for outstanding pro bono legal service. He serves on the State Bar’s Committee on Laws Relating to Immigration and Nationality and is the board adviser to the State Bar of Texas Immigration and Nationality Law Section. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (281) 340-2074.