New lawyers are entering the profession all the time, and the need for mentoring and coaching is rising. Even though these newly graduated lawyers are full of facts and laws, they will need to acquire new strategies and make use of all of those facts they learned. The idea of a law mentor is to do this precisely, just like a sports coach would train his athletes to be better, stronger and faster. The law mentor’s task will be to develop the young lawyer’s skills, teamwork and teach them how to be better at their craft. Normally, at large firms the new attorneys will be assigned a mentor, who will most likely be a partner or senior associate. Their job will be to show them the ropes and how the team works. In some cases, a firm will bring in an external mentor to help in this area. For this relationship and process to be successful it’s essential to have a plan and a strong team the will be willing to help the new lawyer in their process. There are many programs nationwide and you can read more on that in Law Mentoring Programs at the National Legal Mentoring Consortium. Moreover, there are freelance mentors that will be able to coach you in the specific field you are interested in such as family law, bankruptcy law, criminal law, or environmental law. This will especially help you if you are interested in specializing in any one of these areas in a firm where they don’t have a senior attorney who can mentor you. For any mentoring program, be it internal, external or personal, there are certain elements that must always be present to ensure success and effective coaching to a new attorney.
Develop a training schedule
Any firm interested in offering formal mentor training their new attorneys will see the immediate need to develop a training schedule. This will not only be beneficial to the new lawyer, but to the trainer as well. Foremost, knowing the goals that the mentees and mentors have for this process will set the tone for the actual coaching. From the new lawyer’s perspective there should be a list of things he or she would like to learn or situations he’d like to be part of to experience fully, whereas the mentor could come up with strategies to allow the new lawyer to have a series of experiences that will allow them to grow professionally and start off their career on the right foot. When considering what to do with the new attorneys you could consider including in the training schedule activities like sitting in on a deposition, meeting attorneys that practice in the mentee’s field of preference, sitting in on a client meeting, taking a tour of the courthouse, attending events for the legal community, drafting a series of documents for the mentor to review and finally building and maintaining a contact list for future networking purposes. Once the mentor and mentee agree upon what they want to focus on during the coaching process, they must set up specific goals and assign deadlines, appointments or simply work out a schedule that will allow them to accomplish them. Of course, by working in the same office the new attorney and his or her mentor can meet with more frequency, but regardless if they have set up a schedule there won’t be an issue if the mentor is not from the same office or firm.
Don’t lose focus
Unfortunately, what often happens is that these plans don’t get executed due to the day to day tasks that both the mentor and mentee may have. Once the coaching process has begun it’s vital that both maintain focus and don’t lose track of their responsibilities during the coaching process. They should both be accountable for the commitments made during the process and this is where having a strong team comes into play. The firm as a whole, and the people directly involved in the process should work as a team to ensure that the goals from the beginning of the process are met. Teamwork will be an important part of the mentoring process, even to the point of tag teaming mentors depending on the topics on the agenda. If this is done, it is important to have only one mentor and clarify that the rest of the people involved are simply assisting in the process as experts in their fields. This is where creating a coaching team in your firm may be an advantage allowing you to choose experts in the different fields your firm specializes in, and train incoming attorneys to be part of the team.
Some new lawyers may decide to start their own practice instead of joining a firm, and even in these cases law mentors could be considered as a vital part of their professional development. In this case you can turn to your local bar or law school to see if they have formal mentoring programs available, which in some cases might not have one. Networking will then be one of the key aspects that will allow you to find a mentor, or simply taking part in communities that can offer you mentoring in a non-formal fashion, but more through events in the legal community.