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Law Practice Magazine

The Leadership Issue

Simple Steps: The Power of Law Firm Mentorship

Allison C Johs


  • Benefits of mentorship include networking, increased engagement and job satisfaction, enhanced growth and skill development.
  • Great mentors provide encouragement, actionable feedback and help their mentees build their networks.
  • Good mentees are prepared, seek out opportunities to improve and practice active listening.
Simple Steps: The Power of Law Firm Mentorship

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Mentor/mentee relationships within law firms can provide benefits for the mentor, the mentee and the firm even when the firm does not have a formal mentoring program.

Benefits of Mentorship

Mentorship can play a crucial role in fostering skill development, improving job satisfaction and increasing retention rates. Encouraging mentorship can lead to greater engagement of both mentors and mentees within the firm. Having a robust mentorship program can help attract quality candidates to the firm.

Effective mentorship can help young lawyers learn faster and provide them with real-world insights, practical skills and valuable networking opportunities, along with support, guidance and positive reinforcement. Through the mentoring relationship, mentees can gain access to a broader network of contacts and opportunities, enhancing their career prospects and future growth, and helping them to develop business faster than they could on their own. If mentors are assigned when a lawyer is hired, the mentor can help integrate that lawyer into the firm, give them guidance on firm culture and procedures and make introductions to others in the firm, while providing answers to substantive legal questions.

At the same time, those who take on mentoring roles can enhance their leadership skills, expand their professional networks, strengthen their communication skills and leave a lasting impact on the firm and the legal community. Participating in a mentoring relationship can foster a sense of belonging and loyalty for both mentor and mentee.

Qualities of a Good Mentor

Want to be a great mentor? Or looking for a mentor to work with? These are the qualities that make a great one.

Mentors are role models. As a result, mentors should have both subject matter expertise and should hold a position or have skills the mentee aspires to have. Mentors must demonstrate the utmost professionalism and ethics and should act in accordance with the firm’s values and mission in all that they do.

Mentors need to be committed to professional development and helping their mentees reach their goals. They must be willing to invest the time and effort into the mentoring relationship, not just for regularly scheduled meetings, but to get to know their mentee on a more personal level, and to provide guidance when needed.

Mentors must be able to provide encouragement and actionable feedback to their mentees. Feedback should balance giving praise with pointing out areas for improvement and providing suggestions for growth. They must have excellent listening skills and be able to dig deeper into their mentees’ goals and the questions they ask. Great mentors aren’t afraid to share their own experiences. Truly excellent mentors are willing to share not only successes, but also failures and missteps. Doing so can demonstrate that everyone stumbles, that challenges can be overcome and can help the mentee to find solutions or to learn from their mistakes. And good mentors celebrate their mentees’ successes and share positive feedback for a job well done or goals met.

One of the most valuable things that a mentor can provide to their mentee is to help them build their professional networks. If that is one of your main goals as a mentee, look for a mentor who is a connector––someone who is good at networking, generous about making introductions and has a meaningful network.

How to Be a Good Mentee

Mentorship is a two-way street. For the relationship to be successful, the mentee must also be committed to learning and growing. Great mentees take the initiative to seek out new skills, knowledge, resources and experiences to help them improve. For example, ask to shadow your mentor for a day, or to accompany them to client meetings, court conferences, negotiations or networking events. Ask them to co-present a CLE with you, whether inside or outside of the firm, or offer to write the CLE materials for a program they are presenting.

Your mentor is taking time out of their busy schedule to help you to advance your career. Show respect for the mentor’s time and expertise by being prepared and on time for meetings or scheduled mentoring communications. Act on the recommendations they make. Implement time management techniques to ensure you make time for the mentorship relationship and to follow the guidance and advice of your mentor. Express your appreciation for your mentor’s help and advice. Share your successes with them and let them know how their advice, introductions or other resources helped you to reach your goal.

To get the most out of mentorship, mentees also need to practice active listening. Resist the urge to jump in with your perspective. Listen for ways you might add value to the mentoring relationship. Be up front about what you don’t understand or what isn’t working, including in the mentoring relationship. Ask questions to gain clarity. Be willing to seek your mentor’s guidance when you encounter a challenge, but also suggest your own solutions. Bring ideas to mentorship meetings for feedback. Great mentees are open to constructive criticism and new perspectives and use the feedback they receive to improve and grow. They are accountable for their actions and decisions.

Fostering a Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationship

Start by setting expectations. Discuss what each of you would like to get out of the mentor/mentee relationship. What goals would you like to achieve? What resources does the mentor have that can be used to aid the mentee? For example, would you like your mentor to help you by advocating for you for opportunities both inside and outside of the firm? Are you chiefly looking for someone to serve as a more general trusted advisor? Or is your main goal to expand your network and meet people who might help you in your career?

Next, consider how, when and why you will communicate with one another. Will you meet in person or virtually? What will the purpose of your meetings be? Should meetings be held in the office, or would it be beneficial for mentoring sessions to take place in a more informal setting, or over a meal?

Set a regular schedule of meetings and communication and add it to both of your calendars. For any mentoring relationship to be successful, both mentor and mentee must be willing to maintain open and honest communication. The mentee must feel comfortable coming to the mentor with questions or problems, and the mentor must be willing to provide constructive feedback. Both mentor and mentee need to be open to discussing the mentorship relationship and its progress, and to discuss and respect one another’s boundaries and communications preferences.

Take time to get to know one another. Great mentoring relationships are built on mutual trust and respect, which must be developed over time, and require some vulnerability on both sides. Mentoring relationships may be focused mainly on work, but the best ones aren’t afraid to get personal.

Expanding Mentorship Opportunities

Mentorship doesn’t have to be limited to young lawyers or new lawyers to the firm. As lawyers progress in their careers, they encounter different challenges. Mentorship can help with those challenges. For example, a younger lawyer might have a mentor who is a senior associate, but that senior associate might want to seek out a mentor who is an established partner in the firm who can help them to prepare for and transition into partnership.

And mentorship does not need to be exclusive to the lawyers in the firm. Any employee who is seeking to improve could benefit from mentorship, regardless of their job title or responsibilities.