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.

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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.

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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


The Importance Of A Mentor In The Law Profession

Mentoring is an effective way to empower others and a great tool for expert development that every company should utilize and every single professional should consider and employ in his or her own career. Mentors provide advice and guide mentees to develop solutions to career challenges, by using their unique experience in the field and a fresh perspective into issues being experienced. The relationship is not one-sided by any means; just as receiving guidance benefits mentees, they also play an important role by providing mentors with a unique insight of their own abilities, a different perspective of the industry and an opportunity to acquire new skills.

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The obvious advantages of being part of a mentoring program are no secret among successful attorneys, as they will tell you that very few things are as effective as having a great mentor, to drive forward your legal career. Having a person that is currently at the top of their field, take a personal and professional interest in your own development is something invaluable and must not be underestimated.

Mentoring in the legal profession is something that started from the very dawn of law itself. Way before training in academia, new lawyers were schooled in apprenticeships by more experienced representatives of the profession and thus they pretty much learned on the job as they went. As schooling became more formal and universities created programs focused on teaching pupils how to become lawyers, so did the mentorships evolved and transformed into organized and efficient programs that are considered just as important as they actual learning itself. Lawyers all read the same books and go through the same training, so how is it that some of them are much more successful than others? A great deal of credit must be given to mentoring relationships and the proper use of these partnerships, as they are not just helpful to candidates going through law school but also to interns and new lawyers who are just getting started at a firm.

Good mentoring relationships must begin as early as possible in the law career and their influence is of great importance for the development of the mentee and the further growth of the mentor. A good mentor can help their mentee focus their efforts in the branch of law that best suits their ability and give amazing insight based on their experience in the profession. In order to be successful, you must tailor your education and early career choices in such way to maximize efforts by aligning them with your interests and innate skills. This does not mean that mentoring is solely focused to the times before lawyers start to practice; the truth is farther from that as great mentoring relationships endure and become even more beneficial once the mentee has acquired some real world experience as well.

As the relationship goes both ways, we can also assert that mentors have a great deal to get out of their mentoring efforts. Benefits go beyond the obvious personal satisfaction of helping others in their profession to get ahead and succeed; they also introduce rising young talent into their professional network and strengthen their own reputation of great leadership and managerial skills. Great teachers are often so because they are able to learn from their students and from the way they themselves deal with issues brought forth by their protégées. Junior lawyers bring and a new set of skills to the table and a fresh view upon old practices. Sometimes that renewed perspective is enough to consider an untested approach to business and a new application of a ruling that was not considered by more experienced members of the firm.

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Mentoring relationships are diverse and they can be dictated mostly by the workplace and their own practices when it comes to mentorship. A lot of firms today are responding to the demands of the industry to create their own in-house programs to pair new members of their team with experienced partners thus creating working teams with many applications. These types of programs are a great way to strengthen the firm, to attract new talent and retain those who are part of the team, as members see these spaces as opportunities to advance both personally and professionally. However, in-house mentoring programs are not the only alternative present to those interested in finding a mentor but working at a place that doesn’t have mentorship opportunities readily available. The possibility to contact experienced attorneys for inquire about the possibility of mentorship opportunity is an option worth considering, as well as continuing a relationship with a former professor or a faculty representative that was present and whom which they may have an existing professional partnership that may continue to flourish.

For more great articles in mentoring and what a great opportunity these programs can be, check out our publications at Suzzanne Uhland’s Blog today.


Law Mentoring inside “How to Get Away with Murder”

The American drama television series “How to Get Away with Murder” that tells the story of a law teacher and the cases she and her five students work on. Annalise Keating, the main character,  is a prominent criminal defense attorney and a law professor at Middleton University in Philadelphia. She selects five students to intern at her firm: Wes Gibbins, Connor Walsh, Michaela Pratt, Asher Millstone, and Laurel Castillo. They work with Annalise’s employees, Frank Delfino and Bonnie Winterbottom, an associate lawyer. Despite the cases the lawyers work on get immediately the public’s attention, the way Annalise advise her students concerning about how to manage adversity in personal and professional life is what this post is about.

Keep calm:

This could be said that is what all lawyers must never forget. In court, cases could take an unexpected direction however, lawyers attitude and body language might influence the jury, the client, and the defense. During the first season, two or three cases had an unexpected change and non Annalise neither her students or associate lawyer could predicted. Nevertheless, she never freaked out. She for example, asked for a recess and talked to her team, using a language that convinced not only her but her students that they could won the case.

Accept you will not win all the cases you have:

Despite the fact that a lawyer always fight and do his or her best for success all the cases, at some point they have to accept that there is always a possibility to lose a case. This does not mean that if a case is about to be lost, you should not look for more options. What I try to say is that your self-esteem as a professional should not be affected and it will not mean that you are a bad lawyer. For instance, when she had a client who was a priest and was accused of murdering, she tried so hard to defend him until he accepted in court the crime and at that point there was nothing she could do. Accept fails as they come and once you feel better, take note about the highlight points of that case. Who knows if you will have a similar case in the future.

If you want to improve your mentoring practices in your company, do not miss my recentest post “Become the Best Mentor in Your Company”.

Never ask you client if he or she is guilty:

Although this lesson could look unusual, she has a point. She say this  because we can not ignore our human nature. And, as lawyers we look for justice. Hence, the fact that you know your client has committed a terrible crime might make you stay subjective instead of objective. You ask your client for details that could be used in his or her defense but try to allow your professional side be the only one who set a point during the case.

Never get involved with your client:

This is not something new. This is a matter of ethics. In law, as in many other professions, it is not recommendable and in some cases forbidden to have an external relationship with your target audience (students, patients, clients). It supposes that once you started your studies, you incorporate some of your beliefs at your professional practicum. Those beliefs characterize you and differentiate you from your colleagues but, the limit of you as a man or woman has to be clearly established from who you are in the professional field. In “How to Get Away with Murder” Annalise realized that one of her students, Wes, is in loved with her client, Rebecca. Hence, she decided to maintain some details hidden from Wes. The emotional enrollment a lawyer could have on his or her client, will affect the case.  

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As a mentor, always show your students that you can manage any situation:

Your students are learning from you and they see you as a model. Having said this, try to support your students and advise them as much as they need it. They do not only learn from theory, in fact they learn more from you in situations that allow them to participate either as a spectator, either as a participant.

Ask your mentees for their opinion:

Even if you have more experience than them, you can learn something from them. And, if the case is not about learning, you can guide their opinion in order to find the answer or possible solution.

Who were the speakers at the 2016 National Legal Mentoring Consortium Conference?

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“Mentoring: now more important than ever”. This was the motto used for the last National Legal Mentoring Consortium Conference that was celebrated in Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center  2 E 14th Ave, Denver, CO 80203  on May 5-7 from the current year. The event aimed to teach visitors the nuts and bolts of how to create a successful legal mentoring program, how to avoid the risks of potential liability from conflicts and client confidentiality issues, how to use diversity and inclusiveness to enhance a mentoring program, some of the ways legal mentoring is changing and evolving, and it warranted a great western hospitality. Clic here for more details about the event. 

Speakers at the event did a great job. The members of this excellent event were the experts on the field president of the American Bar Association Paulette Brown, Michael Hunter Schwartz, dean and professor of law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law, and national legal mentoring professionals, including noted consultant Ida Abbott as well as Karen Hester of the Center for Legal Inclusiveness. I invite you to learn more about about these professionals:

Paulette Brown

She is a lawyer who earned her B.A. from Howard University and a J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law. Since August 4th 2015, she has been the president of the American Bar Association and became the first woman of color and third African-American person to be president of the ABA. Thus, Brown was the president of the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey.  She also has worked as mediator at  the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Michael Hunter Schwartz

As described in the web page of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock “Dean Schwartz is generally regarded as one of the leading experts on law teaching, learning, assessment and curriculum design in the United States. Dean Schwartz was voted one of National Jurist magazine’s 2014 “25 Most Influential People in Legal Education.” He has authored more than 10 books such as Teaching Law by Design: Engaging Students from the Syllabus to the Final Exam (Carolina Academic Press 2010), Techniques for Teaching Law II (Carolina Academic Press 2011) and, most recently, What the Best Law Teachers Do (Harvard University Press 2013). Dean Schwartz has a law review article forthcoming this fall in the Valparaiso Law Review and another book scheduled to be published in spring 2014, Assessment: A Comprehensive Guidebook for Law Schools (Carolina Academic Press).

Ida Abbott

Since 1995 Ida Abbott has been helping employers to manage, develop and retain legal talent. Mentoring is another service this talented women offers, helping individuals to achieve professional success. Ida has long been recognized as a leader in the fields of mentoring and sponsorship, leadership development and legal talent management. She has written books such as Sponsoring Women: What Men Need to Know, Women on Top: The Woman’s Guide to Leadership and Power in Law Firms, Lawyers’ Professional Development: The Legal Employer’s Comprehensive Guide (2nd Edition), and The Lawyer’s Guide to Mentoring.

Karen Hester

This executive has more than 10 years of experience in defining, developing and implementing leading-edge diversity and inclusion strategies and programs aligned with, and incorporated into, the overall vision of the organization. Her areas of expertise are Diversity & Inclusion Program Management Change Management Program Effectiveness & Assessment Communication & Presentation Strategy Development & Execution Relationship Management Issue Identification & Resolution Team Building & Leadership. She is a strategic leader who positions and promotes an in-depth understanding of diversity and inclusion as a key skill set for leaders at all levels of the organization. As quoted on her Linkedin profile, she “ Builds positive relationships with internal/external partners and resources to enhance diversity programming, implement innovative inclusion initiatives, and strengthen diversity in talent recruitment, acquisition, retention, and development. Diplomatic leader with persuasive communication and presentation skills. Sees beyond the status quo to influence perspectives, identify areas of concern, and create lasting solutions.”

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Visit the post “Law mentoring programs” to learn more about the National Legal Mentoring Consortium.

Law Mentoring: the help future lawyers need

It is no secret that mentoring relationships have proven to be beneficial and desired both for mentors and mentees. This mentoring legacy for guiding others is permeating increasingly the legal world.  Therefore, mentoring programs are being implemented as a means to provide a space where experienced lawyers impart their wisdom to the next generation. This can take place in law schools or can be provided by a law firm to junior attorneys.

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What would mentoring a law student look like?

A way to teach law from experience is to pair students with a mentor. Far from being true, some students think that mentoring means just sitting with a “guy” once every month, and being asked by this person questions like how school is going, or receiving suggestions to take certain classes with a certain professor. However, a mentor can give so much more than a mentee could ever expect or imagine.

In this kind of mentoring…

  • Mentors share their knowledge, expertise and wisdom, and students surely will have a person to turn to whenever they have a question about curriculum, about the legal community in general, or share their concerns.  Mentors listen to those concerns, identify problems, model an appropriate conduct, confront wrong attitudes and practices, challenge perspectives and help consolidate learning.

  • Students participate with attorneys to engage in conversations about what it means to be a lawyer.   These conversations encourage students to think about the meaning of their chosen professional path and help attorneys reflect on their career and what it means for them to be an attorney as well.  The results of this sort of reflections are very positive.

  • Mentees benefit from sharing with someone who has walked the same steps they are in.   Also, they appreciate having a person that has already taken those steps or made the same mistakes.  Mentors are able to look back on their experiences and advise their mentees on the best approaches to be taken in order to confront certain situations.  That is invaluable experience.

  • Mentees are greatly edified when they have a partnership with someone that has legal experience to complement what they are learning inside the classroom.  Undoubtedly, any law student can benefit from spending time with experienced lawyers.  The fact that they have practiced law for a while means that they know the obstacles; they know the wide places and the narrow places in the road.   They know what works or is likely to yield positive results and what does not.

  • Mentoring a law student will produce better future lawyers just because they will be prepared when they get out of law school in the sense that they will have some degree of experience under their belt.  


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What would mentoring a junior attorney look like?

New lawyers should understand the value of a mentor in the professional life.  To practice law effectively, a junior attorney must be humble enough to understand that mentoring is still beneficial to him, and that seeking guidance is paramount for his success and professional growth.

In this kind of mentoring…

  • Mentors can be immensely valuable for junior attorneys.  They can provide advice concerning substantive and procedural legal matters, mechanisms, and help their mentees with their social and professional development.

  • Law firms understand that through mentoring they can provide more skills, knowledge and experience necessary to produce legal work of great quality.

  • Although a new attorney has all the theory, the right attitude, dedication and an excellent performance at law school, the input from an experienced attorney will provide guidance about how to deal practically with difficult clients, how to manage cases and files, how to handle complex situations, etc. In sum, how to survive the first years of legal practice.  This is not exactly displayed in a law book.  It comes through years of experience that the mentor will make available for the mentee.

  • A good mentor to a junior attorney will take a look at his mentee’s career development and encourage him to always take it seriously. He will teach his mentee how to conduct himself in a civil manner, foster respect and foresee potential consequences of bad choices.  His guidance will be more than assigned supervision; it will be a true commitment to the mentee’s welfare, especially in those first years of practice when the junior attorney is most vulnerable, inexperienced and influenceable.

Whether you are a law student or a junior attorney, you must understand that mentoring relationships are seasonal and recurrent.  One day you are a mentee and you receive greatly appreciated guidance and support. You are challenged, corrected, inspired. Very likely, the professional you will become, will have great expertise and skill to be able to help somebody else through mentoring.  Becoming a mentor should be a desired and a rewarding experience.