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Reflections on Mentoring
By Hon. Sandra Mazer Moss
At our recent Networking Event, as I stood chatting, surrounded by eager young law students determined to make a lasting impression upon me (or at least one lasting until they could send in resumes!), I found myself slipping backward in time.

It was 1975 and it was me wearing that pasted on badge and pasted on smile determined to make that lasting impression. Who would be interested in mentoring me, a single mom evening student with grades on the lower end of the alphabet and two little kids tagging along wherever she went?

My first job, a judicial clerkship, had seemed too good to be true because it was too good to be true. Six weeks into it, I discovered the judge wanted more from me than the job description required so I quit - unemployed failure now added to my resume.

Then my luck miraculously changed. A new civil motions judge was appointed and he was looking for a new clerk. After interviewing and candidly explaining why I abruptly left my first job, I hoped for the best. Would he contact the other jude? Would he decide it was too risky to alienate a colleague? What he did was seek advice from his best friend, Judge Judith Jamison, since the first judge had given me a less than stellar review, "If he's right you'll know in a week," she quipped. "But if she's right she'll never work again. Hire her provisionally for thirty days." Provisionally morphed into permanently that first week and I stayed for three years. (I know how to repay a debt.)

Judge Jamison became my mentor for the next 26 years. She took on my case with a vengeance from how I dressed ("no pant suits in court") to how I wore my hair ("shoulder length - longer makes you look like a hippie!") to my future career ("you're smart and dedicated. You're going to be a judge.")

She introduced me to the world of politics ("It's public service and it gives you connections"), encouraged me to become a litigator ("if you want to preside over a court you better learn how to behave in one") and even selected the year I would run for office ("In 1983 there will be at least ten vacancies. I'm running for retention. I will help you.").

Even though it was only 1978 and I was just embarking on my legal career, she had faith in me. And her faith gave me faith in myself. On January 11, 1984, I was sworn in as Judge of the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania. The ceremony took place in Courtroom 653 City Hall (how prophetic!) and Judge Jamison spoke on my behalf.

Judge Jamison taught me two fundamental principles of mentoring:

1. A mentor signs on for life. Judge Jamison never stopped mentoring me whether I liked it or not ("You have too many knick-knacks on the bench. It's undignified. Wear pant suits. Skirts are out-dated. I like your last opinion, great reasoning.")

2. Being a mentee comes with duties and responsibilities. "For every women I pull up I expect her to pull up two more behind her," she always said.

I have tried to follow Judge Jamison's example. I mentor my law clerks, helping to chart their careers, offering my shoulder to cry on and my smile to applaud a job well done. I have given marital advice, shopped for bat mitzvah dresses and cured infertility. I am also committed to the Bar Association's State Civil Section and Women in the Profession Committee as well as the Brandeis Law Society. To all I routinely give more advice than anyone every really needs.

The most important duty of a mentee, however, I discovered all by myself. Mentees should always remember to thank their mentors. In 2001, Judge Anne Lazarus (another mentee) and I nominated Judge Jamison for the Bar Association's prestigious Sandra Day O'Connor Award. Although she was gravely ill, we were able to bring her bedside the large bouquet of flowers that accompanies the good news a candidate has won. And, of course, to tell her how much we loved her, how greatly she influenced our lives and what a magnificent example she set not only for us but for women attorneys everywhere.

 

AUTHOR BIO: Hon. Sandra Mazer Moss is Vice Chancellor of the Brandeis Law Society and Coordinating Judge, Complex Litigation Center, of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division. She may be reached at sandra.moss@courts.phila.gov.

 
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