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GPSolo Magazine

GPSolo March/April 2024: Niche Areas of Law Practice

Mentoring and the Niche Practice

Joan Marie Swartz


  • By joining substantive bar committees and participating in online forums, niche lawyers will find attorneys willing to share lessons from their failures as well as their successes.
  • Making yourself available as a mentor to younger or less experienced attorneys in your niche area is both easier and more rewarding than mentoring in the larger legal community.
  • If you can learn from someone else’s failure, you and your client can avoid pitfalls or plan around them as possible.
Mentoring and the Niche Practice
Thomas Barwick via Getty Images

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I am a solo with a niche practice; my firm focuses on employment-related disputes, with an emphasis on discrimination work. I have found that making myself available as a mentor to younger or less experienced attorneys in my niche area is both easier and more rewarding than my prior mentoring experiences in the larger legal community. Most of my current mentoring opportunities come from several listservs that I belong to as part of a specialty bar association focused on plaintiff’s employment law. But beyond the ease of connecting with mentees, I have found mentoring within my niche area to be particularly beneficial to both mentor and mentee. There’s a fundamental commonality in our practices, and questions usually overlap or involve issues I either am currently handling or have dealt with somewhat recently. Below are a couple of examples to illustrate the point.

Two Recent Mentoring Experiences

A younger attorney recently reached out to me through the listservs and thereafter called me because he found a brief I wrote on an issue he is currently briefing on appeal. When he reached out to me, I offered help and gave him my cell phone number; I encouraged him to call me outside work hours so I could answer his questions uninterrupted. He did just that. He had a number of questions on tactical decisions my team had made in our prior case. The issues he was addressing were identical to the issue I had on appeal. The conversation was important because we had abandoned our appeal and pursued an alternative path—thereby securing recovery for our client. That was important for him because he was investing significant resources and pursuing issues that might not be successful, given current developments in our state. I learned from our exchange that he had researched the issue thoroughly, that no new opinions had been issued since I abandoned the position in my case, and that the same issue will be argued in the court of appeals the next month. So, my mentoring efforts resulted in my learning of more recent developments on the particular issue.

Several years ago, I received a phone call from two younger lawyers. They were set for trial in my jurisdiction and were facing a judge they thought was treating them like outsiders. I coached them a little and then relented to requests for assistance as local counsel. As it turned out, I had a long history with the judge and had a great amount of respect for him. I could “translate” some of his comments and musings and, more importantly, assure them of his lack of bias based on my own experience in front of him in similar matters. Ultimately, I entered in the case as local counsel. One of the out-of-town attorneys is a young woman. I found it particularly gratifying to serve as a mentor to her—her chosen words, not mine.

Benefits for Both the Mentor and the Mentee

One of the reasons I foster these types of exchanges and offer my time is because doing so also benefits me. In the above examples, both the mentor and the mentee benefited from our exchanges. It serves me well to share information with other attorneys, learn what they are doing, and share my experiences within the local bar. We are developing the law in a positive manner and benefiting both our current and future clients. There is the added benefit of feeling like you helped someone gain confidence or avoid legal traps that snagged you. I like this feeling. I have benefited from the wisdom of so many solo attorneys who took the time to assist me in setting up my practice 20-plus years ago. I see this as my way of paying it forward while enhancing my own practice skills and knowledge.

Becoming Part of the Legal Community for Your Niche Area

I encourage those of you within niche areas to become familiar with attorneys who practice in your niche. Join substantive bar committees and participate in online forums; you will likely find attorneys willing to share the most important information they have—not necessarily their successes, but rather their failures. If you can learn from someone else’s failure, you and your client can avoid pitfalls or plan around them as possible. This is invaluable advice. Hopefully, you will feel enhanced by your mentoring experiences, as I have, especially within my niche practice area.