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Judges and lawyers from Women’s Bar Association are ready to mentor young attorneys

COVID pandemic makes mentorship more important, BWBA president says

July 15, 2020 Rob Abruzzese

BWBA President Natoya McGhie admitted to feeling a bit of anxiety in the weeks leading up to her installation as president of the association. After all, Brooklyn and New York City were at the center of the COVID-19 pandemic, and marches and protests were happening locally and all over the country on a daily basis.

She considered canceling her installation and also changing her theme for the year: “Paving The Way Through Mentorship.” After speaking with her mentors, including her boss, Judge Jane Tully, and former boss, Justice Nancy Bannon, she realized that mentorship is perhaps more important now than ever.

With law schools operating virtually and recent graduates unable to sit for the bar exam, McGhie instead decided to ramp up her mentorship efforts because she thought that not only do people need mentorship now more than ever, but now might be the hardest time to find a good mentor.

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Judge Joanne Quinones is a past president of the BWBA and mentor to many young and inexperienced attorneys.

“Mentorship has always played an important part of my personal and professional life,” McGhie said. “I became involved in the BWBA and Women’s Bar Association for the State of New York, and it definitely expanded my network. Many of those people became friends and some of them lifelong friends. This is a difficult time for most of us and a mentor can provide wisdom and advice so we can navigate how we practice law.”

The BWBA held a Mentorship Committee Interest Party on Zoom on Tuesday, June 30 where about 30 members and prospective mentees attended. It was mostly informal. Members introduced themselves, including the committee co-chairs, Judge Heela Capell, past President Carrie Anne Cavallo, and Madeline Kirton, as they talked a bit about their careers and why they got involved as mentors.

Judge Heela Capell found her passion for the bar association through the Mentorship Committee.

“I know at a time like this, what we’re going through, what everyone is going through, it’s a unique time and mentorship is extremely important at a time like this,” said Kirton, who works as the principal court attorney for Hon. Judge Walker-Diallo, supervising judge of the Brooklyn Civil Court. “Being a mentee, I learned a lot from other mentors. I still learn from my mentors to this day.”

Kirton pointed out that the BWBA’s Mentorship Committee is unique because of the number of judges and past presidents who take an active role in the program.

The committee was started in 2018 when Cavallo served as the association’s president, although she gives McGhie credit for doing all of the work behind the scenes. Cavallo said that the bar association really puts a lot of emphasis on matching up people and fostering long-term relationships. It’s not about just sitting down for one or two meetings, she said.


Even after a legal career that has lasted for more than 20 years, Olivia Sohmer Rosenbaum was one of the few attendees of the Mentorship Committee interest meeting who was both willing to take on a mentor and be a mentee.

“This is about starting relationships,” said Cavallo. “It’s not supposed to be a one-off kind of thing. It’s about forming a relationship that you can build on year after year. You have someone you can rely on, someone you can ask questions, either personally or professionally. You also get to meet people in different kinds of areas of practice.”

Judge Capell was a member of the BWBA when she first got involved with the committee, but she wasn’t especially active. She explained how the idea for the committee drew her in, because, she explained, so much of her own career is owed to the help mentors have provided. Now after three years, she likes the program so much that she is helping to run it as a co-chair.

“I have gotten to where I’ve gotten, and it’s been a journey, through mentorship,” Judge Capell said. “I am so grateful for all of the mentors that I have gotten in my life, and I wanted to give something back in that respect. I also wanted to have a relationship with different people and meet different people. I’ve gained a lot from being a mentor.”

It’s the Women’s Bar Association, but men can and are encouraged to join as well. Judge Richard Montelione has taken part in the program for each of the last three years.

Judge Connie Mallafre Melendez, who sits in Brooklyn Civil Court, has taken part in the Mentorship Committee all three years as well. She said that she does it because she wished that she had something similar out of law school.

“I think I went through some road blocks early in my career that could have been avoided if I had someone with wisdom in the legal field to give me guidance,” said Judge Mallafre Melendez, who is a former medical malpractice litigator and court attorney. “I had vision, but when I first started I didn’t have a lot of guidance.”

The interesting thing about the Mentorship Committee was that as the prospective mentors and mentees introduced themselves, many said that they were both willing to mentor and be a mentee. Many members said that they both feel like they have something to offer younger and more inexperienced attorneys, while at the same time the experience and resources available can help even established attorneys to expand their practice or improve their career prospects.

“It gives you an opportunity for growth and expose you to things that you might not know you are even interested in,” Cavallo said. “It’s a good opportunity to take, especially when you are trying to figure things out or you don’t really know where you want to go in your career.”

Judge Jane Tully is one of the mentors whom Natoya McGhie always credits with helping her.

The committee is still looking for both mentors and mentees if anyone is interested. Applications need to be filled out and sent in by Monday, Aug. 3. They are available on the BWBA’s website.

The committee holds regular meetings throughout the year. Last year, one of its meetings was held at the roller skating rink in Brooklyn Bridge Park and another was an axe throwing event.

“We try to pair the mentors and mentees based on areas of interest,” Kirton said. “We read every portion of your application, we read your essay as to why you are interested in becoming a mentor and mentee, your areas of interest, and what you like to do in your free time. We not only want to pair individuals up with a mentor that shares their professional interests, but it helps if they share outside interests as well.”


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