CAMP Cairn | April 2021
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I bought a plant. And while this news may not seem out of the ordinary, I must make a public confession that I. Kill. Plants. From the perfectly healthy Ficus tree that I poisoned with the stale coffee I was too lazy to dump down the sink to the sad little succulent whose instructions to ‘water occasionally’ became an excuse to water ‘never’ – I simply should not be trusted with potted living beings. All of that being said, I am going to give it another try because I do believe that my new plant and I can have a successful caretaking relationship.

Wish me, or better yet wish my plant, luck.

The ‘growth-perspective relationship’ we have with plants is not substantially different from the growth perspective relationship we have with our mentoring partners. Mentoring is based on personal relationships that support the growth of an individual being mentored in myriad ways. Effective mentoring includes skills development and psychosocial or socioemotional support designed to lead to career advancement and success.

Mentors in many domains have increasingly recognized the importance of cultivating a ‘growth mindset,’ or the belief that the talents and abilities of individuals can be developed or cultivated. Largely attributed to psychologist Carol Dweck, the growth mindset paradigm stands in contrast to the ‘fixed mindset’ perspective, which is based on a belief in the innate abilities of individuals.

However, despite the clear positive outcomes associated with mentoring, it frequently focuses on building up deficits in individual mentees, rather than promoting the growth of inexperienced, yet otherwise capable, individuals. In particular, primarily white or majority institutions commonly adopt individual-deficit mentoring models in attempting to ‘support’ individuals in adapting to professional environments, particularly in regards to minority or underrepresented lawyers. Broadly implemented, a deficits-focused approach centers on a fixed mindset perspective, or one that presumes innate, fixed potential.

Which brings me back to my new plant. When most people interact with plants, they do so with a growth mindset. When a plant is not faring well in its environment, its caretaker asks a multitude of questions about environmental factors (light, water, temperature, nutrients, etc.) that may be suboptimal to support the health and success of the individual plant. This response is generally distinct from our response to other humans, which frequently highlights presumed weaknesses and deficits in the individual rather than suboptimal environmental factors. 

Although many mentors may embody a ‘growth mindset’ when entering a mentoring relationship, when the relationship goes wrong or the mentee fails to thrive, those same mentors assume that these failures are due solely to the innate deficiencies of the mentee. The unilateral focus on individual deficits that underlies ‘fixed mindset’ perspectives results in limited impacts and meager outcomes in mentoring relationships. Further, ‘fixed mindset’ interventions fail to fully promote innovation in mentoring relationships.

Our human responses to plants in our environment provide an undeniable proxy for how we can apply a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset to mentoring relationships. Beronda Montgomery’s article, “From Deficits to Possibilities: Mentoring Lessons from Plants on Cultivating Individual Growth through Environmental Assessment and Optimization” lays out several lessons in mentoring that we can learn from our relationship with plants:

Plant Lesson 1
First, we extensively probe our environment when the plants in it are not faring well.

Mentoring Implication 1
Instead of beginning with questions about personal deficits, this lesson from plants teaches that our mentoring engagements with mentees should begin with asking systematic questions about the impacts of the environment on an individual’s potential for growth and success. We should not by default presume infallibility of the system. A well-informed understanding of the system’s impact on the individual will greatly enrich and elevate our mentoring practices.

Plant Lesson 2
We recognize that successful plant growth sometimes requires new resources and at other times the relocation of existing resources.

Mentoring Implication 2
When we have identified specific environmental deficits or needs, we assess whether new resources are needed or whether resources already present somewhere in the ecosystem need to be relocated and/or connected to the individual to support its growth and development. In these instances, one of the mentor’s primary and significant roles is to serve as an environmental steward who connects individuals to the right resources.

In other cases, available resources of the right “type” might prove insufficient to support the maximal growth of an individual in a particular context. Thus, an available but insufficient resource does not yield the desired growth. Here, a growth-minded mentor would recognize when available resources are insufficient and facilitate connection to suitable alternatives or assist in altering an existing resource.

The necessary resources are not always already present in any given environment. A situation like this presents an opportunity for a mentor or leader to help identify and acquire new resources. The various roles of mentors in identifying and accessing resources positions them as “opportunity brokers” who can help individuals connect to resources, spanning from practical to additional mentoring, to promote their success.

Plant Lesson 3
We recognize that caretakers and their specific preparation, expertise, and efficacy in using these skills, critically matter to plant persistence and optimized survival.

Mentoring Implication 3
Given two plants with equal potential for growth, the one best connected to available and sufficient resources will grow better and exhibit greater productivity than the plant with equal potential but limited or insufficient access to the necessary resources. The ability of a caretaker to recognize the plants’ current and evolving needs and to both identify and make connections to required resources is critical in supporting growth and potential. Likewise, mentors and leaders greatly matter in supporting the success of individual mentees. Given two individuals of equal aptitude, the one connected to the right mentoring resources or imbedded in the right mentoring network is much more likely to succeed. The potential for positive mentoring outcomes and individual success depends, in large part, on the mentors in established mentoring networks recognizing how their own experience, expertise, and access to resources can serve their mentees’ needs and advance their goals.

Plant Lesson 4
We seek external expertise when our own caretaking efforts prove ineffective or when we lack knowledge about the underlying causes of the impairments or limitations in plant growth.

Mentoring Implication 4
When plants are not growing well, we will often seek the assistance of someone we know to be ‘good’ at growing plants for advice or assistance. That is, we actively seek ‘mentoring’ or ‘coaching’ to serve as better caretakers, including seeking advice on identifying resources to which the plant may need access or specific advice on means for us to provide better care. When mentoring relationships are not progressing well, mentors and leaders can likewise seek external advice from others with experience, or mentors can seek training to improve their mentoring.

Plant Lesson 5
We attribute a failure to support plant growth to our own caretaking and stewardship inadequacies or inabilities and seek opportunities to improve our care regimen.

Mentoring Implication 5
In the unfortunate event that a mentoring relationship is not progressing towards successful guidance of a mentee, the care humans offer plants teaches us to consider that the mentor may not be meeting the needs of the individual rather than an individual mentee having intractable deficits. Certainly, individual plant caretakers frequently admit to “not having a green thumb.” This sort of admission happens much less frequently in the mentoring realm. In cases where a particular mentor is not serving well for the mentee, and perhaps the mentor has already sought external advice in improving the mentoring exchange, it should not be perceived as a failure to admit that the situation is not likely to end well and to actively, and in a timely fashion, facilitate transfer of the individual to a more suitable caretaker. To do otherwise (i.e., engage with a mentee for whom one’s specific mentoring skills are not well matched), could lead to harm or complete failure to thrive. In all cases, the focus should be on supporting growth; thus, doing no harm, independent of intentions.

There is a wealth of knowledge and mentoring inspiration to be derived from observing, contemplating, and enacting lessons from the care that humans offer to plants. Our growth-perspective driven engagement with plants can help transform the experiences of mentees who are being mentored towards attainment of personal and professional goals. Where effectively enacted, pivoting from a deficit-based approach to mentoring, especially of individuals from groups underrepresented in the legal profession, to a growth-based mentoring approach has great potential for significantly increasing the retention of individuals we recruit into the profession.

To be effective, these approaches require centering mentees and their individual potential for growth in mentoring exchanges and outcomes. We must also understand that facilitating best outcomes requires extensive consideration of ecosystem contexts and the potential roles mentors and leaders have in promoting attentiveness to colleagues and cultivating cultures based on the expectation of genuine collegiality, support, and care. We have to learn to “read” and observe the growth cues of colleagues in our environments as evidence of their health, or lack thereof, in context. We, then, must use these cues—much as we do with plants—to guide our care of colleagues to support their success and thriving.

CAMP Upcoming Events

The racial equity reckoning of 2020, brought on by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery to name a few, has caused many lawyers to consider their role in achieving social justice. Social justice law is practiced by lawyers who have incredible passion for human rights and equality. But what does social justice law look like in practice, and what does it take to become a human rights lawyer? Join our panel of experts as we consider how lawyers can advocate for and create policy to protect citizens and immigrants in the U.S. who face discrimination on the basis of race, gender, criminal background, economic status, and alienage.


Hannah Proff, Proff Law

Indra Lusero, National Advocates for Pregnant Women

Tiffani Lennon, Colorado Center on Law and Policy

Jessica Bednarz, Chicago Bar Foundation

Free CLE Credit Available

Register to attend via webinar at

Promoting the culture of diversity is important for all professions, but it is especially lacking in the legal field. In fact, the legal profession is among the least diverse professions in the United States.  Diversity and inclusion in the legal organizations help lawyers to identify and embrace different backgrounds and contribute to the overall advancement of the profession. There are several factors that impede the prevalence of diversity in the legal field, including the retention of diverse lawyers within the profession.  Join our panel of experts as we discuss how to overcome these obstacles by providing growth opportunities for minority lawyers, developing tools for diverse candidates to succeed, and creating pathways to leadership and equity positions.


Sara Scott, Center For Legal Inclusiveness

Phyllis Wan, Holland & Hart LLP

Jennifer Jaskolka, Xcel Energy

Free CLE credit available!

Register to attend via webinar at

Much has been written about the problems associated with the billable hour business model. Numerous pundits have slammed it, demonized it, and blamed it for the profession’s ills. None of this criticism has had much effect. The billable hour is still the primary way many clients pay their lawyers—and how lawyers make their money. But sometimes lost in the discussion is the impact the billable hour model has on our collective psyche. Join our panel of experts as we address the effects of the billable hour our lawyer professionalism and ethics, lawyer mental health, and client and lawyer job satisfaction.


Lauren Lester, Lester Law

Mark Fogg, Childs McCune

Jonathan White, Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel

Free CLE credit available!

Register to attend via webinar at

Putting the “Pros” back in Pro Bono

The profession, courts and bar associations are seeking ways to engage lawyers in pro bono work.  Recognizing the need to address the changing legal profession and striving to create innovative and meaningful opportunities to improve access to justice, the Succession to Service Program seeks to catalyze Colorado’s lawyers to provide service to nonprofit organizations, courts, and other public service entities.

Succession to Service is about relationships. We are a program that brings good lawyers and good causes together. We believe that the health of our community can be measured by the relationships formed between volunteer lawyers and the nonprofits they serve. Our aim is to build a program that overcomes barriers that may keep volunteer lawyers and nonprofits from finding each other, working together, and developing strong relationships.

The goal of the Succession to Service Program is to establish a structured, statewide program for Colorado’s experienced lawyers and judges to partner with nonprofit organizations, courts, and other public interest entities to influence the continuing need for equal access to justice.

Lawyers are matched with nonprofit organizations, legal services programs, and the courts to provide essential legal assistance to underserved populations. Using their specialized skills and experience to do engaging pro bono work, participating lawyers remain active members of the legal community and help Colorado’s courts and service providers expand and enhance the pro bono legal services they offer.

Click below to learn more or join us today!

Join Now

           Motivation Equals Behavior

Do you ever wonder why people behave the way they do? There are certain basic needs that drive human behavior. Unmet needs cause suffering, and that suffering can lead to self-destructive behavior. One key motivator is human connection.  If we don’t focus on creating healthy, fulfilling connections with others, we might try to meet this need in relationships that are draining and/or unproductive.  Another is the need for challenge, growth, and mental stimulation, but this can lead to “overdoing it” and exhaustion if we’re not mindful of how we are fulfilling this need.  Yet another need is to feel significant and contribute to society.Think about what needs you are meeting in your life, and work on a plan to address needs that you may be overlooking in a healthy, productive way.  

For more information or for confidential assistance, please contact your Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program at 303.986.3345 or visit our website at

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