Adjunct faculty member Anabella Bonfa has been honored at the prestigious California Legal Awards, where she received a mentorship award for 20 years of work mentoring fledgling lawyers. Bonfa is a local trial attorney practicing at Wellman & Warren in Laguna Hills, when she is not at Chapman University’s Dale E. Fowler School of Law teaching a Federal Civil Procedure Lab.

A History of Mentoring

Her long history of mentoring students and aspiring lawyers can be traced back to her own experiences with her mentor Michael Bazyler and the impression he made upon her during the formative years of her legal education. Since then, Bonfa has mentored more than 100 law students and new attorneys and is expanding her mentorship efforts into high school and college-level students considering a legal career.

One of the driving forces behind Bonfa’s passion for mentoring is her desire to “bring respect back” to the legal profession. The genesis of this came to her during a viewing of the original Jurassic Park film. In a scene where the hapless park lawyer, sitting terrified astride an outdoor toilet, is ignominiously devoured by an escaped, rampaging T-Rex, Bonfa was horrified to see her fellow cinemagoers cheering and applauding his demise–not because he was a villain, but because he was a lawyer. She resolved to change how the legal profession was viewed and appreciated by the public–one mentee at a time, through a process of continuing education and support for novice attorneys. The glaring contrast of how loathed lawyers can be–evidenced by Steven Spielberg’s unhappy handling of the unfortunate attorney in Jurassic Park, really jarred her appreciation of the profession. “You should be proud to be a lawyer,” she adds, “you provide valuable relief at the worst times in people’s lives.”

Giving the Law a Human Face

Putting a human face on the law for Bonfa comes through adding practical skills to a curriculum already crowded with theory, casebooks and procedure. Her goal is to teach the “soft skills” of being a lawyer by introducing mentees to the human and emotional sides of the law. Students describe having a practitioner teaching and sharing failures, victories, narrow escapes and the emotional, practical and strategic elements that come with the day-to-day work of being a lawyer as an invaluable element of their legal education.

For Bonfa, great mentorship comes from sharing, nurturing and embracing the humility and vulnerability of being a novice in any field. For her, mentors are guides who don’t do the work for their mentees but help to illuminate the next few steps on the path ahead, allowing them to establish themselves and find their individual pathway to enduring confidence.

More a marathon than a quick sprint, Bonfa’s mentoring process requires patience, understanding, and unequivocal support for her mentees, with the premise that this level of respect and nurturing pays itself forward, resulting in respectable practice and–more to the point–respectable lawyers. “This is a ‘people profession,’ at least it is to me,” she adds, “I’m proud to be a lawyer;” and so she should be, with her latest accolade serving as a testament to 20 years of care, patience and her human touch raising the bar on respectability for the whole profession