Thirty years ago, mentoring was a common practice at most law firms, as every attorney came in to the same office and worked side by side on most days. Then came cell phones, email, texting, video conferencing, and every assortment of impersonal communication through technology. This was followed by working from home and remote geographical offices. These days, it seems challenging — if not impossible — to get a face-to-face meeting with a senior lawyer in your own firm.
As a result, many new associates fail to seek out guidance in the form of a mentor. This is a crucial mistake that severely hampers the growth and maturity of those fresh out of law school. Some get lucky and are taken on by firms that have a formal mentoring program in place or who come from a school where the alumni association provides mentoring services. For those who must go it alone, it is important to understand the reasons why a mentor is imperative to advancing and gaining experience in the profession.
Creating a Connection
It is essential to choose the best mentor for you using specific criteria. Who has the experience, work ethic, and interpersonal skills you admire? Who will challenge and guide you in the direction you want to go? Will this person be a great fit both professionally and personally, or should you seek out more than one mentor to cover all the areas you desire to grow in?
Contact these people and set up an informal meeting. Let them know what it is you admire in them and what you desire for them to teach you. Everyone likes to hear about himself or herself. Ascertain whether they can make a solid mentoring commitment to you and you to them. Once you commit, be open to hearing all feedback. Model your work habits after theirs, as every successful person follows a successful model. Maintain open communication at all times and try to be as available as possible for advice and guidance.
Introductions and Sponsorship
By committing to a mentor, especially a senior-level attorney or partner, a whole new world of networking opens for you. Mentors invite mentees into their lives, create opportunities to introductions to influential people, and include them in the organizations they are involved in. As a new lawyer, you not only have a mentor, but also a sponsor who advocates on your behalf in relationships you may not otherwise form.
Career Guidance and Advancement
When deciding in the direction where your career should go, a mentor is invaluable in the decision-making process. Most likely they have faced the same challenges and have an understanding of how to move forward. Mentors are a wealth of information when researching cases and brainstorming the best direction to take.
A mentor is also your best reference for advancement in the firm. The closer you work with a mentor, the better he or she understands your determination, quality of work, and ethics. They are able to give you the most thorough recommendation, and their word is highly trusted in the firm.
Working with a senior-level mentor who is experienced in the area of law you are pursuing can assist you in creating a whole new way of thinking and speaking. While you bring intelligence, he or she also brings wisdom. They are a source to bounce around your thoughts, questions, and ideas. They can teach you to question sources or ways to gain additional information you hadn’t thought of.
They have more experience communicating with clients, attorneys, judges, and other professionals and can help you cultivate a better approach to take with your cases.
Experienced mentors can help young lawyers navigate everything from office politics to the courtroom by guiding you in developing your own code of ethics and professionalism. By sharing ideas, approaches, skills, and personal policies, your mentor can help to broaden your experience and viewpoints.
This can also work both ways. Often, the idealism of a new attorney can inspire the more experienced and perhaps jaded senior-level lawyer. If you have developed a personal relationship with your mentor, do not hesitate to share your own views and ideas.
Extra Work and Experience
The most obvious benefit of working with a mentor is the opportunity for extra work and experience. As a newer member of the firm, you probably do not have the workload that a senior-level attorney has. Your mentor will welcome your assistance, and you will gain insights and experience from doing so. Work well together, and the rewards could be additional cases of your own.
What Comes Around…
One of the most gratifying experiences of being mentored is the surprise that comes when a more junior-level associate seeks you out as a mentor. Pay it back and create time to guide a less experienced attorney. Ask your mentor for guidance in mentoring and trust in your own experiences and learned wisdom. Mentoring has become the most valuable tool in retaining employees, and the chance to groom the next generation of lawyers will be very fulfilling.