The importance of law firm mentoring programs

Historically, the private practice of attorneys was linked to the idea of lawyers having an apprentice of protégé. This relationship within the legal field has remained, and law firms keep on having apprentices, which now are called mentees.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder_mentoring program
Image courtesy of US Embassy at Flickr.com

Ever since the legal profession has existed, law firms have played a vital role. It was thanks to senior members that younger members could become part of a law firm. The process was simple, and it was based on a mentoring program in which the senior lawyer would pass all its knowledge to its apprentice in order for it to become a member of the firm in time. Without going through the mentorship program, it was not possible for new lawyers to become members of a firm. Also, apprentices would star their journey in the law filed by taking care of simpler tasks at the beginning and moving to more complex ones eventually.

This structure and mentoring process remained the same until the 1970’s and 1980’s when the law firms in New York decided to raise the firm members’ salaries in order to motivate them to work harder. This way, mentoring programs decreased, and members at law firms would rather do everything by themselves instead of sharing their share of the profit with new mentees (and potential partners of the law firms).

Thanks to the market crash that took place in the United States in 1987, many people demanded legal services in order to solve their situation. This gave a renovated impulse to law firms to return to their old mentoring programs, helping new lawyers to prepare for the upcoming cases.

Also, during the mid-1990’s, large law firms and its associates started to demand that the firms should increase their mentoring programs since their senior member was running low and there was no one that could actually do their job due to the lack of preparation and expertise. Improving the associates’ experience became vital, and law mentoring programs once again became important.

This way, each outstanding law firm in the U.S. created its own mentoring program to provide associates with the knowledge they needed to teach mentees. These programs aimed to give associated the power they needed to have control over the information that was meant to be passed to new mentees given the high demand for lawyers the firms were facing.

The Approach of Law Firms to Mentoring Programs

In the early stages of mentoring programs, no matter how good the intentions were, the programs wouldn’t take place unless both the mentor and the mentee shared a common background and had enough available time in their agendas to continue with the relationship.

Nowadays, we have seen that this has changed and mentoring programs make much more sense than they used to do. Their main goal is to provide the inexperienced attorney with the opportunity to develop its knowledge and skill, by gaining the necessary experience in the process. This means that mentees have the chance to get involved with the actual legal process that allows they to witness how the law operated and how the firms that are mentoring them makes the decision over important legal matters.

As mentees are meant to become partners of the firm at one point, the are prepared in a way they can develop fully as the attorney within the firm’s culture and working environment. They are trained, so they play according to the rules set by the firm. In this sense, it is vital for firms to create and sustain an outstanding working environment, and to offer the best working conditions to mentees, so the best ones can feel attracted to potentially become partners with the firm.

lawyers_mentoring
Image courtesy of Wrote at Flickr.com

To meet both the market’s needs, each firm is motivated to develop mentoring programs that are almost tailor-made for their mentees. They understand that it takes an effort to meet certain goals and that high salaries are not always the best way to attract their potential partners.

Law Firms to Mentoring Programs Today

Firms now understand that if they want to be successful, they need to provide their mentees with the proper set of skills to face what the market may demand. The have found a way to balance salaries vs. pressure and even the number of hours mentees and partners need to work. Mentees in this sense are no longer called that way since they have become associated members of firms who are able to demand higher billing rates.

Mentoring programs today focus on training lawyers in the best possible way by assigning them operational tasks from which they need to learn a lot from. Also, they demand associates to go out and “play in and out of the field,” since in both places important things happen. Finally, programs know that every person is different, for that reason, they offer one-to-one support and guidance. This way, law firms strive to obtain better results and form the ideal partner they require for the future.

Related: What Can Mentoring Do For Me And My Career? by Suzzanne Uhland

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