Published March/April 2022
The Importance of Mentors for Female Attorneys in Idaho
By Ashley Jennings
“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
In 2009, my last year of law school, Carole Wells, my Victim’s Rights Professor, approached me with the idea of starting a women’s lawyer group at her house on Thursday nights. Carole is what Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point calls a “connector,” a person who has a knack for making friends and acquaintances with very different and disparate people and then using those relationships to grow and connect those people to each other. Thankfully, my introverted inclinations were put aside, and I agreed to meet Carole’s other “lady” lawyer friends. This group of women have met regularly for the past 13 years. I was not cognizant of the gift that Carole was giving me at the time, but now solidly into my career, I am fully aware. This group of women mentors have become my closest friends and my sounding board for career advice.
I have also benefitted from the mentorship of males, namely my boss Bill Thompson, Latah County Prosecutor. Bill has been the elected prosecutor for 29 years. The education he provides regarding county policy, criminal law, civil law, and leadership is irreplaceable and uniquely different than that of my “lady” lawyer mentors. Of course, it is important for both men and women to have mentors. However historically in the legal profession, especially in Idaho, men have been able to do that for each other. Networking and obtaining leadership roles have not been a problem for men. For a woman building a law career there is an inclination to rely on other experienced women who have walked a similar path. However, my experience is that there is value in learning from those with different experiences and perspectives, including men. Seeking varied mentorships will allow women to become more well-rounded attorneys who will hopefully earn more seats at the leadership tables.
What is a mentor?
According to Maryann Bruce, former Fortune 100 Division President and CEO, a mentor is an individual “who takes an active interest in your career, serves as a sounding board, shares their experiences and wisdom, encourages new ways of thinking, challenges your assumptions, and helps you learn new skills.” A mentor should be someone with a similar professional goal or mindset. A mentor can be any age, at any level, and in any field. Women are also not limited to one mentor.1 It is beneficial to have multiple mentors with different skill sets and life experiences.
Female mentors who have walked a similar path are invaluable in helping women find their own way through their experiences. However, male mentors, free from patriarchal constraints, can help women think expansively about career matters. Casey Foss in her article “Why Women Shouldn’t Rely Exclusively on Female Mentors” states, “My male mentors apply that expansive thinking to me, helping me see beyond the expectations the world places on me, and I subconsciously place on myself, as a woman.”2
Finding a mentor
Many women want a mentor but do not know how to ask. According to Bruce, “The best way to choose a mentor is to find someone you admire, someone who has a professional style you want to emulate, or a skill set you want to develop—then ask that individual.” It can be as simple as approaching this person and saying, “I admire the way you work and the values you display. Would you be willing to meet with me regularly? I believe there is much I could learn from you.”3
Find a connector such as Carole Wells and ask for introductions. If you are a connector, start a group and make it a point to meet and discuss successes and challenges. A mentor can also be found by identifying activities in common. Having something in common is the most comfortable place to start a mentorship. A co-worker can also serve as a mentor. Peers can help to motivate and encourage each another, while holding each other accountable for reaching goals. Lastly, many organizations have a formal mentorship program in place that employees only need to sign up to participate.
The role of a mentor
According to James E. Meadows, co-founder of the largest woman-owned law firm in the country, there are three “Cs” to being a good mentor: Consultant, Counselor, and Cheerleader. 4 As a consultant, the mentor is someone the mentee can trust, confide in, can seek advice from, as well as provide a safe space to discuss concerns that might be uncomfortable discussing with his or her boss. Counseling involves understanding and listening to the mentee and then tailoring advice to fit an individual’s situation. A good mentor should brainstorm ideas and potential outcomes around specific issues, but the final decision should be the mentee’s. It is not about a mentor feeding the answers; it is about the mentee being empowered to learn and grow in a positive direction. Mentors are also cheerleaders who provide support and champion mentees within their profession by providing encouragement, reassurance, and positive suggestions.
According to Andie Kramer, a workplace consultant, the best mentors “are good listeners, good questioners, and good strategic thinkers.” A bad mentor will pretend to know all the answers and will provide specific advice about how the mentee should behave. A good mentor, on the other hand, will not know all the answers and will be honest about those limitations. The best mentors know how to seek out others who are better suited to deal with specific issues.5
Benefits to Mentors
It is in the mentor’s best interest to take on this role for the mentor’s own career development. Chahira Solh in “How I Made It: Advice on Mentoring the Next Generation of Law Firm Leaders” 6 listed the following benefits:
1. Mentoring develops new perspectives. By working with and listening to a mentee, usually someone with less experience, a mentor is exposed to new ideas and new approaches.
2. Mentoring enhances active listening skills. Finding out what a mentee needs to grow and discovering how to help requires actively listening to what is being said.
3. Mentoring makes the mentor a better leader. Mentoring develops the skills used as a motivator, instructor, and communicator. Learning to lead one or two individuals grows the ability to lead many.
4. Mentoring increases personal satisfaction. One study found that 87 percent of mentors and mentees feel empowered by the relationship and reported greater confidence and job satisfaction.7
5. Mentors improve teamwork. Mentoring is a giant step toward successful team building and long-term loyalty within any organization.
6. Mentoring establishes a long-tail referral network. Mentoring creates powerful relationships, which can help the mentor in future career development as well.
7. Mentoring builds the future. “Focus always on developing the next generation of leaders, even when it means sharing the limelight,” states Jon Van Gorp, Chairman of Mayer Brown.8 Mentoring allows the fostering of talent for the future and to become an active participant in developing the next generation of Idaho lawyers
Women attorneys need mentors – Especially in Idaho
Currently according to the Federal Judicial Center only 28% of all federal judges are women. Approximately, 37% of all justices on state supreme courts are women, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. This is the same percentage of women in the legal profession in 2020 – 37%.9
Idaho does not fare better. Idaho ranks nearly last in the nation when it comes to the percentage of women judges on the state’s courts. Women make up just 30 percent of the members of the Idaho State Bar. Only 27 percent of Idaho’s 95 magistrate positions are women.10 The Idaho Court of Appeals has some parity with two women judges: Molly Huskey and Jessica Lorello, and the Idaho Supreme Court has two women out of five justices: Robyn Brody and Colleen Zahn. However, studies have found that women have been graduating from law schools at rates near those of men for approximately two decades but are not advancing at the same rates. 11
Women mentoring women is critical for women to gain access to opportunities in what is still a male-dominated legal environment at the leadership level. With mentorships more women will rise to senior positions of leadership, creating diversified leadership teams. A growing body of research shows the benefits of having women leaders.12 Studies show women often have a broader perspective, increase innovation, consider the of the rights of others, ask questions, and take a more cooperative approach to decision-making. This approach has led to increased positive outcomes for businesses with women at the decision-making table.13
To create parity, it is imperative that members of the bar, both men and women, help pave a smoother road for the women coming up the bar to guide them through their career and help them obtain leadership positions which will ultimately benefit the entire Idaho State Bar.
BIO: Ashley Jennings graduated from the University of Idaho College of Law in 2010. She is currently the Senior Deputy Prosecutor for Latah County. She also an adjunct professor for the University of Idaho College of Law teaching Domestic Violence and the Law.
Ashley Jennings graduated from the University of Idaho College of Law in 2010. She is currently the Senior Deputy Prosecutor for Latah County. She also an adjunct professor for the University of Idaho College of Law teaching Domestic Violence and the Law.
2. Casey Foss, Why Women Shouldn’t Rely Exclusively On Female Mentors, February 21, 2019, forbes.com.
3. Maryann Bruce, Mentoring Matters: The Importance of Female Mentorship, October, 26, 2021, forbes.com.
4. James E. Meadows, Mentorship Is Essential to Fixing the ‘Women’s Recession’, October 27, 2020, Bloomberg law.com.
6.  Chahira Solh, How I Made It: Advice on Mentoring the Next Generation of Law Firm Leaders, January 7, 2022, law.com.
7. Andie Kramer, Women Need Mentors Now More Than Ever, July 14, 2021, forbes.com.
8. Chahira Solh, How I Made It: Advice on Mentoring the Next Generation of Law Firm Leaders, January 7, 2022, law.com.
9. Aspiring Judges Need Female Mentors, March 29, 2021, www.americanbar.org.
10. Hon. Michael J. Oths, Who Are We?, Digital Advocate, January 25, 2021, isb.idaho.gov.
11. Cynthia Fuchs Epstein et al., Glass Ceilings and Open Doors: Women’s Advancement in the Legal Profession, 64 Fordham L. Rev. 291, 356 (1995).
12. Dr. Margie Warrell, Gender Diversity At Leadership Tables: It Takes More Than Good Optics, August 23, 2021, forbes.com.
13. McMaster University, Women make better decisions than men, study suggests. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, March 26, 2013. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130326101616.htm.