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Brooklyn Bar Association panel promotes mentorship in legal community

January 18, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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In celebration of National Mentoring Month, the Brooklyn Bar Association hosted, “The Power of Mentorship” on Jan. 11 with a panel of attorneys that spoke about their careers and the role mentorship has played in it.

The event was organized by the BBA Mentorship Committee Chair Hon. Joanne Quinones, and vice chair of the committee, Natoya McGhie, served as the moderator. The panel of speakers included past president Andrea Bonina, Anthony Vaughn, Jr., M. Frank Francis, and Hemalee Patel.

The event, which was sponsored by Cavallo Law, PLLC, lasted about an hour and McGhie asked the panel questions about creating a mentorship network, what it’s like to be a mentor, and their experience as a mentee.

“The Brooklyn Bar Association Mentorship Program was designed to help law school students and newly admitted attorneys learn by providing them with one on one mentorship,” said Judge Quinones.

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“Our mentors are judges, private practice attorneys, government attorneys, and they specialize in a variety of different areas of the law,” Judge Quinones continued. “The goal is to advance the personal and professional development of newer attorneys and law school students by providing career guidance and to expand the mentees personal and professional network.”

Throughout the event McGhie asked questions of the panel to get them to share their experiences. She also asked for practical advice from the panelists about how to get the most out of the mentor-mentee relationship.

While many of the panelists suggested joining formal mentorship programs, like the one at the Brooklyn Bar Association, but others suggested that even joining a bar association, any bar association, showing up and participating can be a huge help in finding a place among the legal community.

“It has always been an organic thing for me, it was never a strict, ‘Let me be your mentor.'” Patel said. “I’ve had those experiences too, but one of the best mentorship experiences I had was with Judge Rachel Adams, who I met at a bar association event. She taught me a lot, she understood the power of showing up. If someone plans an event, and they go through the trouble of planning it — show up. There is nothing more encouraging than organizing something and seeing people show up.”

Francis explained that he has always had two different types of mentors throughout his career — one to help guide him on the practice side, and another to help him with advice on business development.

“On the practice side – you need someone to help teach you the statutes, the case law, how an office works,” Francis said. “Once you’ve gotten your basic skills, then, I’m in the private sector — and business development is really how you can excel.

“After a few years as a baby associate, the BBA took me to the next point and that was developing friendships,” Francis continued. “Dan Antonelli was the one who taught me that people do business with their friends. I highly encourage you that if you are not involved in the BBA, or another bar association, make those steps to get involved.”

Bonina, who is a past president at the Brooklyn Bar Association, talked about her own career and how it was shaped by mentorship, particularly with the help of two other past presidents of the BBA — Hon. Nancy Sunshine and Gregory Cerchione. She explained that their help not only guided her during her own career, but the lessons she took from that helped her mentor others.

“Nancy Sunshine and Gregory Cerchione really took me under their wing and Nancy Sunshine was tremendously impactful on the path I took at the Brooklyn Bar,” Bonina said. “They really helped me get involved. Larry DiGiovanna is another great example. He helped me along the way, he helped establish the Technology Committee and put me in charge and ultimately I was able to use that to pass it along to Dan Antonelli, and he took over and did an amazing job with it.”

One important piece of advice given at the event was that once an attorney joins a mentorship program, either as a mentor or as a mentee, it is important to follow through. Younger attorneys often can get discouraged thinking they might bother their more experienced counterparts, and more experienced mentors may not feel they are able to connect with someone out of law school.

“Those can be fantastic relationships,” Francis said. “Don’t be afraid if you are assigned a mentor, don’t be afraid to reach out. Give that attorney a little bit of space. If they don’t get back to you right away, don’t overthink it, but if you don’t hear from them after a while give them a follow up. I don’t know if people are afraid they’re wasting a mentor’s time, you’re not. Take advantage of that. If you don’t follow up it kind of follows you.”

Judge Quinones suggested that any attorneys looking to become a mentor or a mentee should reach out to her or McGhie through the BBA.

The group will also host another event on Wednesday, Jan. 25, a networking mixer entitled, “Thank Your Mentor/Mentee” that will begin at 6 P.M. at the Kimoto Rooftop on Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn. Interested attorneys can RSVP at www.BrooklynBar.org.


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