Why I Mentor | Paul Cannon | Simmons and Fletcher, P.C.

man with questionsA Short Job Interview

When I was in my third year of law school, I responded to a blind ad for a law clerk that was posted on a job board at South Texas College of Law. I went in for an interview and the interview went like this:

“Thank you for coming, Mr. Cannon. I have hired and fired three law clerks in the past 3 months and what I have learned from this is that I cannot tell a squat about a person by reading a resume. So, this time I’m doing it differently. I will give you the assignment to respond to a motion. You go home, do it on your time wherever you want. Then turn it in in 1 week. If I like what you turn in, I’ll call you. If I don’t, I’ll mail you a check. Are you interested in doing it?”

I had a writing-intensive Philosophy degree from the University of Texas and I had received one of the highest grades on my legal research and writing brief at South Texas College of Law. I was pretty confident in my writing ability. So, I said “yes.”

Losing the War But Winning the Battle

The assignment was an impossible-to-win issue. I had to respond to a motion for judgment as a matter of law on an issue that had already been twice-decided by the Texas Supreme Court against us.

So, I did the only thing I could do. I drafted an argument for changing the law. Fifteen pages of argument to be exact. I wrote about how other states did it better. I argued why we should follow them. I argued anything I could think of. I got the job.

He filed the response I turned in with the Court. As anticipated, we lost. But the next 27 responses to motions for summary judgment I drafted for him all won.

Working for Keith M. Fletcher

The man I interviewed with that day was Keith M. Fletcher–one of the founders of Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. That interview took place in the fall of 1994. Today, 26 years later I am still at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C.

I started as a clerk then became an attorney. Keith taught me how to practice law. Throughout my entire career until he passed away exactly one year ago today from lymphoma I could always go to him and say “what if I do this?” He might not always have an answer, but he always tried to help me find one. His guidance is what made me a successful attorney.

Keith Fletcher was more than an employer to me. He was a friend and a mentor.

Myself as a Mentor

I started mentoring other lawyers about ten years into my practice when I was offered a chance to mentor a new attorney starting out on her own. I saw it as an opportunity to build referral relationships.  Although that attorney was the first of several referral relationships that have come to a result of my mentoring other attorneys, I really consider that mentoring as just dipping my toe in the water.  I answer an occasional question. Share motions and forms I have created over the years. It is not a large investment of time. But it can stop new lawyers from making painful mistakes.

Leaders are Not Meant to be Permanent

I was sitting at my desk one day shortly after Keith Fletcher passed away and I remember thinking, “he’s been my mentor for over 25 years, who is going to mentor me now?”

Then I was reminded of a Bible study I did many years ago on the topic of spiritual gifts.  The lesson of the study was that God puts people in leadership roles but there will eventually come a time for that leader to step down or be called away. When that time comes, part of His plan is that a new person will step up into the old leader’s role and develop their own spiritual gift of leadership to become whom God wants them to be. I realized at that time, it was my turn to be the mentor, not the mentee.

Persistence Pays

Shortly after that, a fax addressed to “Simmons and Fletcher” showed up on my desk. It was from a college student at Sam Houston State University with aspirations of going to law school upon graduation. She was taking 18 hours her first semester and her grade reflected it.

The odd thing was,  as I read it, I realized I had received the same fax about 4 months prior and ignored it. Her persistence in sending a second blind letter paid off this time.  Knowing how unlikely it was for blind fax to wind up on my desk, I saw it as a sign from God. Frankly, I thought if I made Him ask a third time it was going to hurt.

This time I took it as an opportunity to be a mentor.   I met with her and gave her some advice on running her business.  The information I gave her paid off in a matter of days.  That is how I came to mentor her.

Over the next few months, it expanded into mentoring her scholastically. I taught her how to write, how to study, and how to give back when she had the opportunity. Her grades turned around into straight As. She is currently on the Dean’s List and running a side business to pay her way through college.

She is going into her sophomore year, and she was just chosen to be the Chapter President of the Society for College Leadership and Achievement at SHSU. When they interviewed her for the position, they asked her what she could bring to the table if chosen. She answered, “I bring the importance of giving back. If someone hadn’t decided to give back, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Recently, for my efforts, I was awarded the Outstanding Mentor Award for 2019 by the Houston Young Lawyer’s Association. Yes, my mentee was behind that! But the best reward is knowing you helped someone unlock their true potential.

Mentorship Can Change Your Life

Many people do not think mentorships are worth the time. But that is only because they have never really tried it. You truly get out what you put in. Mentoring develops meaningful relationships that become more mutually beneficial the more you invest in them. And sometimes you will be pleasantly surprised what else comes from them.

If you do not believe that mentoring can result in lasting relationships that shape your career, you are wrong. On the way out of Keith Fletcher’s office that day I first interviewed with him 26 years ago, he said to me: “you should know this is just a law clerk position, there is no opportunity for advancement.”

Situations change. You never know what will come of a new relationship or how it will shape the rest of your life. I am forever grateful for the “opportunity with no advancement” Keith Fletcher gave me 26 years ago and for the 25 years of mentorship that followed.