‘Why Can’t We Just Use “Sponsee”?’

This question came up in a recent discussion forum for professional development people at law firms.

The subject was terminology to describe law students and recently minted lawyers in need of guidance from more senior members of the profession.

The reason we can’t use sponsee is that it is an ugly neologism (as bad as attendee, evaluatee or secondee).

Other equally icky suggestions that came up:

  • fosterling
  • disciple
  • protégé, protégée
  • ward
  • aspirant

And, of course, the dreaded mentee – which must be rejected because there is no verb ment (a mentor is called that after Mentor, who took charge of Telemachus, the young son of Odysseus (Ulysses), during the latter’s absence during the Trojan War).

Budding English advocates undergo a pupillage, but pupil may seem a bit old-fashioned in North America. And, like articling student, articled clerk or articled student, it describes only someone who is not yet a lawyer. A more recent UK term is NQ, for newly qualified [lawyer], which would work — but only for those who have passed out of the student phase.

Why not something simple like junior, which is inclusive and has both the sanction of time and the advantage of simplicity?

Dickens uses it in Pickwick Papers (1837): ‘Mr. Sergeant Buzfuz..leads on the other side. That gentleman behind him, is Mr. Skimpin, his junior.’ (A sergeant or serjeant was a senior barrister in the old Court of Common Pleas.)

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

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