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Program pairs rookies with veteran lawyers

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Aug. 17 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

A new Utah Supreme Court program pairs new lawyers with veteran mentors to help them navigate the legal world, from finding the court house to going through the metal detectors once they are there.

The skills that new lawyers get in the mandatory program could be essential, said Stephen Owens, the recently elected Utah State Bar president, who is implementing the program.

"It's a very young bar," said Owens, 41, who is older than half of the state's 7,500 active lawyers.

Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham said in a video message on the bar's Web site that she hopes the new program will give lawyers better training in ethics, civility and professionalism and give them "a chance to get some breadth of perception on the culture of their new profession."

The program is mandatory for new lawyers passing the bar exam and lawyers moving to Utah who have practiced less than two years. Mentors must have at least seven years of experience, no past or pending bar disciplinary actions and be approved by the Utah Supreme Court's Advisory Committee on Professionalism.

Owens said 350 of a planned 500 mentor lawyers have been approved.

One mentor is Susanne Gustin, a criminal defense attorney for 18 years. Darren Levitt finds himself contacting her twice a day with questions such as how to handle an upset client to navigating routine court procedures like motion to continue filings.

"In school, you learn how to spot legal issues," said Levitt, 31. "What you don't learn is the day-to-day procedural things that occur in a law practice, like communicating with the court and opposing parties, what needs to be filed and some of the local rules."

— Associated Press

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