Vail Daily column: A mentor-protege sandwich
Ryan Summerlin December 8, 2013
As my daughter grows (too quickly for my tastes) and my parents and parents-in-law progress toward retirement, my wife and I find ourselves in the “sandwich generation” — at once attending to the needs of our child and, for the first time, worrying after the affairs of the people who raised us. In my professional life, I am also in the midst of crossing this generational Rubicon as I am mentored by those who came before me and offer insights and advice to nascent attorneys. Both sides of the spectrum offer their own challenges and rewards, each of which are critical to personal and professional development.
I have had a long line of mentors, each of whom have contributed to my understanding of the machinations of the legal system. My first legal mentor was my internship coordinator when I was a wide-eyed high school junior spending a summer at a bustling Atlanta law firm. She guided me through one of the toughest parts of a lawyer’s career: When the fiction of legal drama gives way to the realities of legal practice. Her hold on me was apparently so strong that I subconsciously ended up retracing her educational path, first to Dartmouth and then to the University of Virginia School of Law. These were fortuitous pedagogical steps, as key professors at each institution inspired me to follow my heart and choose courses of study that led me not necessarily to practical application but to happiness. It is a theme that continues to the present.
Importance of mentoring
During the recruiting period in law school, I was drawn to employers who understood the importance of mentoring. Law school provided a solid bedrock, but there was much to learn upon entering the workforce. Fortunately, I chose to start my career at a law firm full of lawyers who were not only incredible attorneys but who had great aptitude for helping me navigate the often baffling world of complex civil litigation. Their doors were always open to me when I had a question, but passive observation was also very instructive. To be a lawyer is not only to know the law, but to know how to approach the practice so that it does not consume you. From these men and women, I learned how to take a deposition and cross-examine a witness, but also how to be a good husband, father and friend. Balance has always been important to me, and they taught me how to apply that concept to my career.
It was with excitement but also sadness that I left my firm in Atlanta to strike out for Colorado, with a break for a year-long global honeymoon in between. I did not know if the mentoring that I received at the beginning of my career would continue, but continue it did. A lawyer in Vail took a chance on me and helped me gain an understanding of the differences between big city and mountain law. As a proud and involved father, he further showed me how important it was to balance all aspects of life and gave me the freedom to work hard and also have an outlet for family and recreation. Perhaps most importantly, he instilled in me the confidence to know that I could go up against even the most battle-tested lawyers.
As my career journeys forward, I am still in touch with most of my mentors, and they continue to provide me with invaluable guidance. I have begun to repay the karmic favor by dispensing career and life advice to inquiring law students and rookie lawyers. It is an honor to have someone seek my counsel and a treat to be able to help in the small measure that I can. Mentoring others has shown me that, despite my young age, I have amassed enough experience to pass it along to the newest generation of lawyers. Even if actual knowledge need not be imparted, it is helpful for a young attorney to know that someone is watching over them and being their cheerleader. The first years of practice are daunting, and there are pitfalls galore. When providing advice, I endeavor to emulate my own mentors and guide with a soft but firm touch. In the end, a strong and confident lawyer is only going to increase the esteem of the profession, and that is one of the goals for which I strive.
T.J. Voboril is a partner with Thompson, Brownlee & Voboril LLC, a local civil litigation firm, and the owner/mediator at Voice of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, email@example.com or visit www.thompsonbrownlee.com.