Several weeks ago, the Bar Association of Baltimore City honored me with the Charles H. Dorsey, Jr. Mentor Award. While it is gratifying to be honored by friends and colleagues, what made this award even more special was that I knew Mr. Dorsey well and respected him deeply. As long-time Executive Director of Maryland’s Legal Aid Bureau, Mr. Dorsey was a champion of the poor and underprivileged. He was also a patient and dedicated mentor to young lawyers trying to give back to society. I was just a law student in the early 1970s when I clerked for him and the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau. Yet the lessons I learned during that time still impact me more than 40 years later.
I remember Mr. Dorsey’s words when I spoke with him after a particularly unpleasant encounter at the clerk’s office of the circuit court. I had gone to court to file some papers and the clerk was blatantly discourteous. It was clear she viewed work for the Legal Aid Bureau as somehow of less merit than other cases filed there. The encounter had left me both disheartened and frustrated. Yet Mr. Dorsey took the high road, as he always did.
“It is our job by the strength of words and persuasion to change this attitude, which is not just in Baltimore but in many jurisdictions in the United States – and even within the legal profession,” he said. “The best way to help change people’s minds about the importance and value in what we do is by our actions in becoming involved with those who need our legal assistance and are too poor to afford a lawyer.”
Mr. Dorsey’s words carried me through many other unpleasant encounters, and I still believe there is no higher service we can perform as lawyers than to support the Legal Aid Bureau and its goal of ensuring that even the poor and infirm have equal access to the legal system.
I also try to heed Mr. Dorsey’s example of mentoring young lawyers striving to be outstanding attorneys and community leaders. A few straightforward suggestions to that end:
· Find a mentor -- not just inside your office but also outside;
· Give your best to every assignment, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential;
· Learn from your mistakes;
· Tailor your work or your legal arguments to your particular audience, noting carefully what resonates and what does not;
· Become involved in your local and state bar associations, as well as in your community and in the issues that matter most to you; and
· Exhibit civility, professionalism and high ethical standards in everything you do.