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
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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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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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Great Ways For Improving Your Mentoring Skills

Effective mentoring is an art, a science, a set of skills and a matter of constantly working on it to become better each day. The first step to becoming and a great mentor and remaining so, is to accept and understand that the mentoring process is a journey and not simply a patch that works every time and that is equally effective in all situations. Proper mentoring is about adapting and constantly adjusting to different surroundings, various people and the never-ending business landscape that changes at a pace that is usually set by your particular line of work and the external factors that are constantly forcing that environment to evolve. Being a great mentor means understanding change and adjusting accordingly, while at the same time being able to identify how your experience best translates to the new challenges placed upon young professionals today and how you are also affected by that evolution and the need to remain relevant as well.

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Here in Suzzanne Uhland’s Blog, we try to provide you with the best mentoring advice that includes not only the basis on how to form this great relationship, but also help you find ways to improve your mentoring skills constantly and avoid remaining stagnant in such a fast moving environment.

Let us take a look at some of the best ways you can improve your mentoring skills and continue to exercise techniques that will allow you to always be ready to provide the best possible advice for those whom you take under your wing.

Always evaluate your own attitude towards mentoring.

Mentoring is definitely not for everyone. Leading a mentoring relationship is about the experience but more than anything is about attitude. Do you have the right attitude to mentor? Perhaps in this moment you do, but what about tomorrow? It is easy to fall in the routine and let mentoring become something that you will end up doing in autopilot, but is that the best you can give to those who look up to you for direction?

Being a mentor is about sacrifice and patience, and that means that it may take a toll on you with the passing of time. A responsible mentor always surveys their inner self to see if they are up to the challenge before getting involved in a mentoring relationship because they understand that their attitude is one of the most important aspects that determines the outcome of the partnership. Know your limits and be fair with your mentees.

Choose your mentees wisely.

Understand that while almost everyone can benefit from having a mentor, no mentor is right for every single situation. Choosing your mentees carefully will not only benefit them to get the most out of the partnership but it will also help you greatly to be benefited as well. Remember mentoring is a two-way street and a mutually beneficial mentorship is the best type of relationship you can have. In the end, you will both be grateful that your choice was deliberate and consciously made.

Understand the importance of the mentoring contract.  

It is up to both of you how formal your mentoring contract ends up being, however, there are some important points that every mentoring contract should be absolutely clear about. Experience is something you will only receive with due time, however, the use of tools and the understanding of their importance like in the case of the mentoring contract, is something that will go a long way on improving your own mentoring skills. The mentoring contract has to be specific about how long you two will work together. Very seldom you can give this contract a specific amount of time, as it is easier and more beneficial to decide the length of the relationship based on the goals that you wish to achieve. Identifying and agreeing upon those goals is where your experience becomes so useful. Sometimes mentees are not even sure how they can measure their own success and how they can judge that they are advancing or not, towards the goals they have set for themselves. It is your duty as the mentor to motivate them and help them see their own advancement in times when they become discouraged.

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Image courtesy of Patrick Marioné at Flickr.com

Be committed to the relationship and expect that same level of commitment back.

Always be respectful of your meetings and the time you set aside for each other. Sometimes it becomes very easy to cancel meetings or postpone them for later dates. This can become a problem as it can turn into a habit and quickly damage the relationship while possibly losing all that has been accomplished so far. Avoid multitasking and instead, try to respect your time together as something sacred for both of you. These will instill discipline not only on your mentee but on you as well, something that will definitely help you greatly in your path of becoming a better mentor. Each person that you help will teach you lessons and add more tools to your arsenal so you can be prepared even better for the next challenge.