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Germaine Winnick Willett Wins 2020 Indybar Women in Law Mentorship Award

Germaine Winnick Willett Wins 2020 Indybar Women in Law Mentorship Award
February 24, 2020

Congratulations to Ice Miller attorney Germaine Winnick Willett, recipient of the Indianapolis Bar Association Women in Law Division’s 2020 Mentorship Award.

Germaine talked with us about how the program got started, her experience as a mentor and what mentoring means in the legal community.

Could you tell me a little bit about how you got involved with the mentoring program for the IndyBar Women in Law Division?

When I served as Chair of the IndyBar Women and Law Division in 2011, a WLD member reached out to me to ask whether the WLD had a mentoring program. At the time, we did not, but I found the idea intriguing, so I met the member for lunch. We brainstormed with each other about what a mentoring program might look like, what mentoring in the legal profession tended to be like and how mentoring could go wrong. We took the ideas from that meeting and used them to launch the IndyBar WLD Mentoring Program the following year. Launching the program was my last big project as a member of the WLD Executive Committee, and I feel fortunate the Executive Committee has allowed me to continue to serve on the Mentoring Program’s planning committee over the past eight years.

What does a mentoring team look like?

We usually have mentoring teams made up of four to six people. The idea is for each team to have one or two lawyers who have significant years of practice matched with three to four less experienced lawyers and law students. With a traditional, one-on-one mentoring relationship, the mentor and the mentee may not be able to meet, especially with attorneys who are busy and who may not always be in control of their schedules. With the team approach, even if one or two members need to cancel at the last minute, there will still be three or four members present. The members who are there can talk about any issues they are having. At a minimum, they are getting to know each other better and thereby building their network. The mentoring team structure also helps law students and newer attorneys who may not even know what questions to ask. These team members benefit when they listen to the questions asked by more experienced team members.

What responsibilities do mentors have in this program?

You just have to be willing to participate and to engage fully for the year-long duration of the program. No preparation is required on mentors’ part, other than to put a little thought into what advice they might give at each monthly meeting. It can be simply thinking about something they struggled with when they were a new lawyer and how they worked through that or how they could have handled it differently with hindsight. Or they could cover broad topics, such as navigating workplace relationships, networking and business development, how to advance in your organization, what to expect when you are starting a family while practicing law or things like that.

What is your mentoring philosophy?

Mentoring is how to get yourself out of the “you don’t know what you don’t know” conundrum.

What challenges has the planning committee faced over the years?

We designed the program to help address some of the challenges that come with mentoring – busy schedules, not knowing what questions to ask – and I think the program does a great job with those. We have not quite figured out how to solve one challenge. We ask one person from each team to volunteer to schedule the monthly meetings and remind everyone to attend. Some people who agree to take on this task do an excellent job, while others do not. The planning committee keeps working to address this challenge.

What is your favorite part of being a mentor?

Meeting new people, positively impacting someone’s professional life and the enjoyment of learning something new from my mentees, which inevitably occurs.

What advice do you have to give to those considering whether to participate in WLD’s mentoring program?

To mentees, I would say: don’t underestimate the value of mentoring. It can help you both in big ways and in small and unexpected ways. Less experienced lawyers may be assigned a mentor who is a judge, a lawyer at a large firm or to a solo practitioner or maybe an in-house counsel with 20 to 30 years of experience. The relationship that results provides an immediate pathway to hear how these attorneys found their way in the legal community and to learn from those stories. That is invaluable. And in addition to having a safe space where you can ask questions of more experienced attorneys, you are also going to gain new friends in the legal community, peers who you will undoubtedly bump into at future bar association events. To mentors, I would say: don’t think you’re too busy for this program. It takes less time than you think. We all have an obligation to give back and extend a hand to the younger generation of lawyers, and this program is a great way to do that.

What does receiving this award mean to you?

I feel very honored to be recognized in this way. I have served as a mentor in this program since its inaugural year. I have tried to be a good mentor, to share with my teams what I struggled with early on and what is important as a lawyer progresses in her practice. Some of my mentoring teams have clicked better than others, and I’m afraid that sometimes I just was unable to connect well enough. So to receive this award communicates that, at least in some of those attempts, I was able to reach my mentees in a meaningful way, which is very rewarding.

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