Emily A. Sorensen, J.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mentor as “[s]omeone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.” Merriam-Webster.com, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mentor. Mentoring in the legal profession is not new – apprenticeships date back hundreds of years. Mentoring is a tradition that has withstood the test of time – and today is making a comeback. Back in the 13th century, when judges had to provide for the apprenticeship of lawyers, mentoring was the only way lawyers could learn their craft. Today, although legal training is more formalized, interest in mentoring persists. Why? Because mentoring was, and continues to be, one of the most effective ways to pass on skills, knowledge and wisdom, and train the next generation of professionals.
Dan Pinnington, Mentoring – It’s Time Has Come Again, LAW PRACTICE TODAY, August 2004, https://apps.americanbar.org/lpm/ lpt/articles/mgt08041.html.
Formalized legal mentoring programs continue to grow across the country and mentoring is, as I heard it put, becoming a new practice area filled with opportunity and growth. We need those seasoned lawyers who have seen the reality of practicing law to go back to those first years of practice and help new lawyers transition from law school and, in turn, see what these new lawyers can offer the profession as they begin their careers.
An Allegorical Approach to Mentoring
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave tells of a group of prisoners who, from the way they are shackled in an underground prison, can only see the shadows of people and objects projected onto the wall in front of them – they can see nothing behind or to the side. The shadows are produced from puppeteers walking along a pathway behind the prisoners but in front of a fire. “In every way, then, such prisoners would recognize as reality nothing but the shadows of those artificial objects.” Plato, Republic, Ethics 56 (Oliver A. Johnson and Andrews Reath, eds. 2007). The prisoners’ reality consists of those shadows only.
Plato discusses what happens when these prisoners are released and ascend from the cave into the sunlight. If they ascend without allowing their eyes to gradually adjust, they are blinded. And suppose someone were to drag him forcibly up the steep and rugged ascent and not let him go until he had hauled him out into the sunlight, would he not suffer pain and vexation at such treatment, and, when he had come out into the light, find his eyes so full of its radiance that he could not see a single one of the things that he was not told were real?
Such an immediate exposure to the sunlight becomes harsh and the transition from the reality of the cave below to the light above becomes overwhelming. However, Plato urges us to consider the difference if the prisoners are brought up in stages and are exposed to light and real objects gradually. “He would need, then, to grow accustomed before he could see things in that upper world.” Id. The adjustment to reality happens more comfortably. Mentoring in the legal profession plays a critical role in the adjustment between law school and the practice of law because it can alleviate some of the harshness that comes during the transition.
After these freed individuals have acclimated to the light, the allegory turns to a discussion of what happens if those freed prisoners return to the cave. Now imagine what would happen if he went down again to take his former seat in the Cave. Coming suddenly out of the sunlight, his eyes would be filled with darkness. He might be required once more to...