"The only way I can describe it is playing in the minor leagues, but being
coached by all-stars,"
says Adam Sean Cohen. "It’s like a fantasy league."
No, Cohen is not referring to the annual program that Cal Ripken, Jr., holds
for adults looking to run the bases with hall-of-fame players at his Aberdeen
baseball complex. Rather, Cohen – who co-chairs the Maryland State Bar
Association (MSBA) Public Awareness Committee – is speaking of his experience
as both Mentor and Fellow with the MSBA Leadership Academy.
For the past 10 years, successful and seasoned attorneys have offered their
support, advice, leadership skills and hard-earned wisdom on the intricate
nature of practicing law to young lawyers from across the state by way of the
MSBA Leadership Academy. Created in the spring of 1996 by then-President Robert
Gonzales, the Leadership Academy selects a class of 15 Fellows – impressionable
young lawyers possessed of a strong work ethic and desire to serve within the
ranks of the Association –and pairs them with veteran attorneys, or Mentors,
who have demonstrated their leadership qualities within MSBA’s various
committees. The 12-month program strives to establish connections between prominent
MSBA leaders and young lawyers; along the way, the Fellows collaborate on a
public service project while gaining experience in public speaking and attending
various law conferences. Though the meetings between Mentors and Fellows (or
Fellows and Fellows) are not finite and are set up depending upon each other’s
schedules, a monthly gathering is the normal procedure.
When first designing the Academy, Gonzales drew from his past military experience – chiefly,
recalling how the officers and infantry interacted; how different races and
creeds came together for one cause; and the overwhelming sense of honor all
the members carried with them during (and even after) their service.
"There is a pride in being selected," Gonzales explains. "The sense of pride
extends from class to class. Every member develops a network and friends through
the Bar [Association]."
Along the journey, Mentors and Fellows form bonds whose mutual benefits reach
well beyond the parameters of the program. "On a smaller scale, it is an incredibly
intimate experience," notes Gonzales, who served as Cohen’s mentor in
the Leadership Academy Class of 2001.
"I was honored to be given an opportunity to learn from the best of the best," says
Cohen. Both he and 2001 classmate (and current Leadership Academy Co-Chair)
Kathleen Chapman admit that their acceptance to the program was somewhat humbling
(Chapman particularly noting that she was "thrilled, but scared" upon news
of her selection), yet both found support through the experience. Through their
respective mentors (in Chapman’s case, former Leadership Academy Chair
Tracey Skinner), both forged profound relationships during that period.
"You form a bond," says Cohen. "No matter what you do or where you go, when
you see your mentor, you’re linked together through the bond. This whole
experience is a snapshot in time –
you are bonded forever."
Chapman and Skinner made an effort to meet as much as possible while paired
in the program, and to this day, they continue that relationship.
"The Academy opened up opportunities that may not have been offered to me," notes
Chapman. "It has allowed me to meet a lot of great people. There’s a
genuine camaraderie between the Fellows – we have all remained close
"I learned from [Gonzales that] you could work hard and play hard", adds
Cohen. "[I] found a balance between being a successful businessman and still
having fun. This way, I won’t miss out on life."
"I always felt [the Mentor-Fellow relationship] was a two-way street," explains
Cohen, who now serves as a Mentor himself. "[When you join], you become a part
of a living program. Each year, your resources grow exponentially. You are
a part of the classes before and after you. It is a unique opportunity to interact
with positive people doing positive things. Making it through this program
is a huge accomplishment."
Youshea Berry was only two years out of law school when, as a member of the
Leadership Academy Class of 2005, she was paired with Cohen. Today, as a sole
practitioner in Washington, D.C., Berry attributes much of her success to the
experience and the connections made through the program.
"I never would have been able to start my own practice without [the Leadership
Academy]," says Berry.
"Every meeting or event I go to, I see at least one person who wants to be
in or has been in the Academy, so I see familiar faces everywhere. It is invaluable
in that respect.
"I recently got news about a new case of mine and I called Adam Cohen right
away. He is a huge resource, but the Academy is an even bigger one."
The MSBA Leadership Academy offers more than just tutoring and camaraderie;
it cements an unbreakable bond between colleagues, interlaced with reverence
and longevity while helping to construct an Association of unparalleled organization.
MSBA Leadership Academy Class of
2005-06: (back row, left to right) Carlos Braxton, Richard H.
Gibson, Jr.; (front row, left to right) Dawn Diggs-Barnett, Chad
Spencer, Teju Rau, Danette Edwards, Co-Chair Alison Leonard-Leach,
Co-Chair Kathleen Chapman, Dolores Dorsainvil, Bethamy Beam