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

How To Enhance The Mentoring Relationship As A Mentee

Here is Suzzanne Uhland’s Blog, we have talked about all the great benefits mentoring programs offer the organization and each of the individuals involved in this type of relationships that stimulate mutual growth. People are often skeptical about mentorships because they feel that it is perhaps too good to be true. The idea of having a person who is successful and much more experienced than yourself, helping you bounce ideas out of each other and providing you with a unique insight into your own professional field for free, is sometimes difficult to accept. Mentorships seem like a great deal but in a world as competitive as ours, it is difficult to simply accept something that apparently puts you in the position of being benefited without having to give anything up but your time in return.

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The reason why people may think this about mentoring programs has more to do with our own ignorance of the role of a mentee than with any possible insidious nature hidden within a mentor’s motives. It is important to understand that successful mentoring relationships are a two-way street and that mentors have just as much to gain from them as mentees do. If you have been guilty of this mentality, then I invite you to learn a little more about the actual role of the mentee. And how being in the seemingly receiving end of the relationship, also comes with its own set of responsibilities and the need to give back.

Successful mentees that are able to make the most out of their relationship with senior individuals are those who seize the opportunities that arise when two minds work together on a single goal and are able to meet regularly to engage in that which they are passionate about.

One of the best ways to make your relationship become more reciprocal is to give a chance to your mentor to listen to what you have to say. Sometimes you have a lot to offer but neither of you are aware of the knowledge and experience you possess and that could be of great value. Mentors are people who are also looking to learn and will be happy to participate in activities that can turn into a learning experience. It is important that your fit with a mentor is based on a mutual understanding and you are both matched based on your personality and common values, since those type of pairings usually work best and spark the necessary curiosity that will allow both parties to become interested in each other’s set of skills and what they can teach one another. Simply being a good company and a genuinely interested individual can go a long way as a mentee.

Another aspect to consider is to be understanding and accepting of your role in the relationship and the fact that in most situations, it will be better for you as the mentee, to be flexible as to the dynamics of the mentorship. Your mentor may be a person who prefers to take on a coaching approach or perhaps they are more into answering questions and allow you to lead the course of the program. It is important for you to be aware of this and be respectful as to which type of relationship seems to be favored by your mentor.

Do not be afraid to talk about the things you know. Everyone is an expert at something and you have not achieved what you have thus far without being particularly good at something. Do not feel that your skills are irrelevant as you will be surprised how the things you know may change someone else’s life and in this case, help your mentor learn something or receive advice from a seemingly unlikely source. Something as common as the age or background difference can be a great place to start, as you can find many ways to teach your mentor something that you take for granted.

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Feedback is a great way to show you mentor that you respect the work you do together and that you take seriously the time they invest in your development. When you give your mentor feedback, you are helping him or her expand their own leadership skills and grow as professionals. Mentoring sessions are an excellent opportunity to evaluate one’s outlook on leadership and to conduct experiments on a smaller scale in which a mentor can evaluate the way they guide an individual and assert their own experience in order to help someone else direct their efforts towards their own professional and personal development. Just like giving feedback, it is important to actually listen to advice and trust the person you are working with. There is nothing more frustrating than a mentee that doesn’t listen to advice, as it makes the relationship ineffective and the time spent together feel as it were wasted.

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The Most Common Mentoring Mistakes You Should Avoid

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Mentoring is a practice that benefits companies, individuals belonging to the organization and more closely mentors and mentees who are personally involved with this type of partnerships. When members of a company are partnered with in each other in order to give or receive the guidance that comes along with a mentorship, you are not only helping them to grow professionally and to advance their own career and develop leadership skills, but you are also doing a great service when it comes to the organization’s growth and its impact on the industry. People engaged in successful mentoring programs are not only able to advance on their own career path but also able to grow as an individuals and be part of a workplace that cares about building a better work culture, promote better communication amongst staff and create a positive impact in retention efforts. As great as it sounds, we must be aware of the fact that while successful mentoring programs are great for many more reasons than the ones we’ve just listed, they do not always function the way they are meant to and they often fail.

A mentoring program can be unsuccessful for many reasons, such as a lack of support by the company on the mentor/mentee relationship or even insufficient engagement to the cause by the participants themselves. Today here at Suzzanne Uhland’s Blog, we want to take a look at some of the reasons why mentorship programs do not work and which are the most common mistakes participants makes that often lead to failed mentoring relationship programs. While there is not one universal trick to make a program succeed, there are a few things that you should keep in mind in order to give your mentoring initiative every possible chance to be prosperous.

Carelessly matching partners

This is probably one of the worst mistakes that can be made when starting to plan a mentorship program. Names shouldn’t be picked out of a hat like in a lottery and people shouldn’t be matched unless they are carefully selected to work together based on their necessities, skills, and personalities. Sometimes people think that just because you have an individual who is a leader in the company, he or she will be willing to automatically become a mentor or even that they’d be good at it. Not matching people properly can ruin a mentoring program before it even takes off.

Failing to provide guidance

So now you have your people together and then what? You cannot simply let them mingle and then hope for the best. Mentors should understand what is expected of them within the company’s goal and according to the plan that has been carefully laid out that outlines the purpose of the mentoring program. Remember that mentors shouldn’t be first-line supervisors, so they must understand what their place is as mentors and respect those boundaries. The best way to assure that is to clearly explain what they goals are and what is expected of them when it comes to mentoring their mentees.

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Not allocating the proper time

If you have a great program set up but do not allocate time for your people to meet and have proper time to conduct their mentoring activities, then you might as well just cancel the whole program. Mentoring takes time and just trying to squeeze it in between breaks and in off-hours is just not going to cut it. Mentoring programs deserve the time and the energy necessary to be fruitful and to truly spark change. Time needs to be set aside for your teams to meet.

Leaving it all up to the mentor

This can happen at a company level, but also at the individual level, we think that the mentor is the one who needs to guide the relationship and just do everything for it to succeed. Mentors are normally very busy individuals and in a way or another, they are the ones who are donating their time and energy to help others advance and the organization itself to be better positioned within the market. It is unfair to expect mentors to do all the heavy lifting and to be responsible for the relationship to work. The key to success is to accept that this is a partnership and therefore all parties involved need to pitch in. Forgetting to follow up.

Not planning the path

The path of mentorship must be filled with benchmarks and goals that are spaced in carefully planned intervals that allow partners to know where they are going and how well they are doing on their way there. Sometimes mentorships believe they can just make it up as they go and do not have a need to plan their steps before taking them; this is a huge mistake and it only leads to failure in the long run.


Mentoring Relationships: a fruitful investment

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Almost every lawyer and roughly most law students are familiar with the good practice of mentoring, in which a student or an attorney gets together with a more senior lawyer who provides advice and keeps them from being led astray in the competitive race towards success. Mentoring programs can be found everywhere; they are widespread because they actually work: they help students, young attorneys, and further careers while bringing together networks and professionals.

As attorneys become more experienced and start gaining the necessary expertise in order for them to be a vital and crucial part in law firms, corporate offices, and other organizations, their needs also become more specialized and, to some extent, sophisticated. However, the fundamental need for direction and assistance in sailing rather complex atmospheres and environments within law corporations still remains; nonetheless, students, enthusiasts, attorneys and more senior attorneys can meet these needs by developing the aforementioned networks and relationships.

Suzzanne Uhland as previously talked about the importance of resorting to mentors from time to time; mentors are definitely people who can get to play a crucial role in people’s success as a professional. They build the pathways to connect the gaps between theory and reality of how the professional workplace operates. A mentor can also be an excellent partner; mentors can help others develop the skills they need so that they can thrive in their careers. An effective and fruitful mentoring relationship can serve as the bridge to access needed resources and people —key people—. Likewise, mentees can avoid mistakes and reduce the likelihood of falling victim of inexperience. Besides, they can save some time in their attempt to ascend to senior positions within law organizations.

Nevertheless, even though the benefits of resorting to a mentor have already been proven, and even though people have increasingly been looking for this type of relationships, yet many lawyers assert, or have asserted, that they either do not have a mentor or that they rarely resort to a mentor should they have questions.

Many attorneys, students, and law enthusiasts are completely disregarding the opportunity to take advantage of good mentors and productive mentoring relationships mostly because their expectations do not match their reality. Besides, they also let these opportunities go unnoticed because they have a totally biased, exaggerated connotation about the intrinsic role of a mentor —when the expectations are not met, they totally distort the entire concept. Such premise is what often leads to a fatal event commonly referred to as career suicide: almost every successful attorney could assert that his or her success could be accounted for by the presence of a fruitful and productive mentoring relationship. This is in fact particularly true for females in top positions of their professions who often face different junctures of isolation due to their, comparatively low, numbers.

There are other cases where a sheer array of professionals firmly believe that mentoring relationships and resorting to mentors for advice are not important; however, it is important to point out that this phenomenon obeys to a flawed preconception about the term “relationship”. It would be nonsensical and naive to actually believe that a mentor or a professional who seeks to help others through counseling is some sort of a fairy godparent. Mentors do not possess some sort of magic wand in order to provide mentees with their dream job or a successful career; nor can they interact with the mentee’s environment and get rid of all the challenges and the difficulties they have to face in the race for success. With that being said, a good mentor is rather like a good lecturer: he or she is able to provide valuable and crucial information, resources and, more importantly, a much deeper sense of perspective. Their job is not to provide mentees with all they need, but to teach them how to get it.

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Some lawyers also value the time factor. Allegedly, they do not have enough time for them to develop such relationship. They constantly complain about the lack of time in their lives, which is why they ignore additional commitments —or, like they say: distractions—. And even though this might indeed be, to some extent, true, what lies behind the incapability to make room in their schedule is rather a mistake in judgment and poor time management. Career success, unlike the common connotation, is all about working smarter and not harder nor longer. If the opportunity presents itself, take it. If there is a chance to develop a positive and productive mentoring relationship that may come in handy when sailing across the different nuances of the professional life, take it: do not let it go unnoticed.

Taking advantage of what a mentor has to offer is perhaps one of the greatest investments people can make for themselves.

Best Companies In The World Using Mentoring To Achieve Success

Mentoring is a tool used by small and big companies alike in order to take advantage of the many benefits this approach to leadership provides. Mentoring eases challenges companies must face in areas like improving the productivity of their workforce, increasing the company’s retention rate and innovating processes to make them better everyday.

Investing in mentoring programs for their employees is one of the things that truly successful companies have in common. It is important to show personnel, especial at the junior level, that the company cares about their future within the organization and uses resources to ensure they will be part of it for many years to come.

Here we have some top companies that implement mentoring programs within their structure.

General Electric

General Electric launched in 2010 their Leader in Residence program in Crotonville, NY. The initiative seeks to gather leaders and GE employees from all over the world to produce a learning environment that educates and enriches. In environments like such, learning comes from discovery, conversation, reflecting upon experiences and application of new strategies. Leaders have the opportunity to listen and evaluate situations and understand global contests of the company while at the same time absorb this knowledge, elaborate upon concepts and share with other employees they can mentor.

The possibility to connect at a more human level makes this type of leadership program a quite valuable opportunity that would not be possible at a classroom or in an everyday work environment. Senior leaders working alongside with junior employees in an environment that facilitates honest feedback and analysis is something that more companies should consider and make it a staple of their leadership development programs. By giving leaders access to deeper levels across the organization, and, in turn, providing participants access to senior leadership, GE has created greater cohesiveness throughout the company.

General Electric offers leadership development opportunities on-site in 198 locations throughout 50 countries, including their New York campus, their global learning centers in Munich, Shanghai, Bengaluru, Abu Dhabi, and Rio de Janeiro; and many GE sites around in the world.

“GE has been a driving force in global leadership development for more than a century. This is where history is made. This is where leaders are made.”

– Raghu Krishnamoorthy, Vice President, Executive Development and Chief Learning Officer


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Intel is one of the world’s largest semiconductor chipmakers based on revenue. It is the inventor of the x86 series of microprocessors, the processors found in most personal computers. Intel supplies processors for computer system manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung, HP and Dell, which makes it a company with a quite ubiquitous product. Intel has changed the process of matching up mentors and mentees in a very interesting way. The do not place new hires or junior employees automatically with leaders based on their longevity in the company, but instead; they search thoroughly for matches based on the skills and knowledge that is needed at the time. It is no surprise that mentors could be passing down some serious knowledge to other members of the company that actually outrank them.

The Intel way of mentoring has very little to do with the traditional approach other companies use and most people are used to, not only that, but it also has almost nothing to do with individual career advancement but instead it tries to focus on overall company growth. The program is mostly ran through intranet and email, thus allowing mentorship pairs to be located away from each other in different cities.

Something else that is interesting about this program is the fact that partners and not mentors control the frequency and duration of the meetings and together they decide the aspects they want to focus on in their training.

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The fact that Google is one of the world’s top leading technology companies, means they attract plenty of young talent each year to form part of the ranks and aid the company’s growth. Google hosts every year an event called Summer of Code, in which students participate writing code for several open-source software applications aided by mentors. Every summer, participants are paired with mentors who previously applied to projects they are interested on and during the program, help the participants gain invaluable experience while writing code in a real-world case scenario. Not just that, but participants also have a great chance to prove themselves in order to gain further employment within the company or with the representatives companies they have been mentored by. This mentoring program is one of the most innovative and widely known around the world. It has been in place since 2005 with thousands of participants and mentors taking advantage of its great opportunities of growth.