June 2015 - President's Page: The Importance of Mentoring
In Celebration of Dads
I am an equal opportunity advocate, so I know better than to feature my mother in Orange County Lawyer but ignore the person who sacrificed so much, made all my lunches, drove carpool, and hand made most of my Halloween costumes. Wait . . . that is still my mother. How are dads supposed to compete?


For me, the answer is simple. I am blessed with a great father in Wylie Aitken. Most of the Orange County legal community knows that he is a great plaintiff’s lawyer. Growing up in the Aitken house, however, I can tell you that is not what he was famous for. In fact, when my mother would tell me, “Dad is out bringing home the bacon,” I initially thought my dad was a butcher. To his children, he was just a regular guy, a soccer coach, and a chauffeur. 

Dad has a strong calling to fight for social justice, and early on shared with us the need to fix the wrongs we see in the world. It may be hard to believe, with three children as attorneys, but he never pushed the law as a career. Instead he emphasized empathy, and instilled in us the belief that we had the power to change the world.1 Best, he is not above silly fun.2 I am lucky to have him as my role model, both in life and the law.

I also would be in a psych ward right now if I did not have the loving support of Michael Penn, the doting father to our three girls. He is an amazing attorney in his own right, and while I am fortunate to have his advice and counsel at the firm, I equally rely on him as a model of what is good in the world. He is a kind man, and, as anyone who has met us will attest, the better half. Knowing that he is the standard upon which my girls will judge character is a comforting thought. He not only makes me want to be a better lawyer, but a better human being. And I have lots of room for improvement!

Ten Years of Mentoring in the OCBA
In 2005, OCBA President Dean Zipser started a task force that later became the Mentoring Committee. Now, I need to be honest and state that Dean (or Mr. Zipser when I am trying to kiss up to him) was a wonderful mentor to me when I was an associate at Morrison & Foerster and new to the OCBA board.3 Mr. Zipser shared that he benefitted from several mentors in his legal career, and wanted to involve the OCBA in helping the significant number of new lawyers to find mentors. He felt the OCBA was perfectly situated to assist its new lawyers, given the number of experienced OCBA attorneys who valued mentoring and were willing to get involved. As a founding committee member, I remain impressed with how our members always answer the call to assist and give back. 

The committee accepts applications from OCBA attorneys who have practiced law for up to five years, and matches them with seasoned attorneys with ten or more years experience. The mentor and the protégé are primarily matched by practice area and geographic location. After the initial pairing up is complete, the committee hosts an introductory reception for the pairs to meet. Each match decides on how often, when, and where to meet—the circumstances are unique to each pair. This year, the committee is chaired by Secretary Nikki Miliband and the revered Mr. Zipser (oh, I’m just warming up).

After ten years in existence, the Mentoring Committee has an ever-increasing number of OCBA members seeking a mentor. The lauded and esteemed Mr. Zipser reports, “we have received positive feedback from both mentors and protégés. Although the ‘formal’ pairing of mentor and protégé is only in place for one year, we’ve had many relationships that continue voluntarily.” The Mentoring Committee is always seeking attorneys to be mentors. The committee receives requests from every practice area, so if you have the time and value the lessons learned from a mentor you had, please consider giving back and getting involved.
Who does the venerated Mr. Zipser consider to be his mentor? Do the great ever have mentors, or are they just born that gifted? (Too much?) “I was blessed with many wonderful mentors when I was a young lawyer, all who contributed to my development as a lawyer and inspired me to mentor others. But the greatest mentor I’ve had is, and remains, my father, Stanley Zipser. He was the reason I became a lawyer.” 
This kind sentiment struck a cord with me. As lawyers we can easily give back to our legal community by reaching out to a younger lawyer, mentoring them, listening, and offering our often hard-earned wisdom. Yet, as evidenced by Dean’s words, our greatest legacies are often not in the courtroom, but in the minds and hearts of those dear little faces we leave each day in our fight for justice. 

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. 

(1) Hippies will do that, and fill you with all sorts of ideals that you forget the first time you get a paycheck with taxes withheld.
(2) Please ask him about his M.C. Hammer pants and dance moves.
(3) Due to this early mentoring, he is also probably partly to blame for the decline of the OCBA under my stewardship.

Ashleigh E. Aitken is Of Counsel at Aitken*Aitken*Cohn, a position she obtained neither through nepotism nor duress. She is a plaintiff-only civil litigation attorney specializing in wrongful death, personal injury, business torts, and class actions. She can be reached at ashleigh@aitkenlaw.com.