In any profession, a mentor can be an invaluable resource. That is true especially in the competitive and challenging legal world. Luckily, there are wonderful individuals looking out for new attorneys, giving them opportunities to grow and helping them navigate challenges as they arise. Every year, the KCBA Young Lawyers Division honors these individuals at its annual Winter Soirée.
This year the event was held on February 9 at the Washington Athletic Club. Thirteen mentors were nominated by their mentees for the guidance they provided. Two were selected by a committee to receive the Mentor of the Year award: Christine Masse of Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP and Gwendolyn Payton of Lane Powell PC. While all the finalists were outstanding, Masse and Payton really stood out for their mentorship, both inside and outside the office.
One thing Masse’s mentees really appreciated was her willingness not just to listen, but to take action. When several of her diverse mentees came to her, frustrated with having to choose between working billable hours and promoting diversity within the firm and legal community, Masse started brainstorming. The solution? Billable credit for diversity work. This allowed the mentees to fully participate in supporting diversity and inclusion, and help prevent burnout. Masse advocated and succeeded in implementing this policy change.
A theme in Payton’s nominations was how she is a role model for her mentees and empowers them, as women, to become leaders. She stresses the importance of giving back to the community through her pro bono efforts on behalf of death row inmates, teaching yoga to women in prison, and serving as president of a nonprofit board.
She encourages her mentees to be just as involved by nominating them to serve on committees, and inviting them to galas and baseball games, but also not forgetting about their work-life balance. For new mothers this can be especially tricky, but Payton makes them feel comfortable making decisions that are best for their families.
While both women are incredible examples of how important and empowering mentoring can be, it was encouraging to look around the room at the Soirée and be reminded that 11 other outstanding mentors were there. They, too, had made a difference in the careers and lives of new attorneys who wanted to say thank you for their incredible support.