Many of us have been assigned to a mentor as part of our participation in an organization, as a newbie at a workplace, or perhaps during our law school days. Now, be honest: How beneficial did you find that mentoring relationship? Did it consist of only one meeting for coffee and then end abruptly? Did it last during that one really difficult semester in law school and then end once you graduated? Are you at the beginning of what can be a very fruitful relationship and wondering how to approach it?
As someone who has participated in numerous mentoring efforts both as a mentee and as a mentor over the years, and as the 2019 National Mentoring Cochair of the ABA Judicial Intern Opportunity Program (JIOP), I guess you can say that mentoring is my “thing.” I wholeheartedly live by John C. Maxwell’s statement that “one of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.” We oftentimes get so bogged down in the present that we have a difficult time envisioning how our current step can serve as a meaningful step in our professional journey. The bridge between each step is the wise cheerleader, also known as a mentor, who can help and guide you. However, a mentor can help you only if you take proactive steps to ensure that it is an equally beneficial relationship. A mentor can cheer for you only if you invite him or her to do so.
Regardless of where you are in your legal career, be it a law school student or practicing attorney, here are four key things that you should always bear in mind.
- Mentoring Is a Two-Way Street
As with any relationship, mentoring takes two. A fruitful mentoring relationship does not exist solely because of either party’s participation; it requires both. That is, mentors typically set the tone of the relationship by making the first move to invite the mentee out to lunch, for drinks, or to a networking event. Through opportunities for the mentee to be involved in the mentor’s career, the mentee can engage in the mentor’s story and learn from the mentor’s wisdom. At the same time, the mentee has a responsibility to engage the mentor by following up to keep the momentum going. So many miss out on great mentoring relationships by failing to email a mentor or potential mentor after first meeting and receiving a mentor’s business card. Or, on many occasions, the mentee does not keep the mentor in the loop when it comes to sharing successes, awards, honors, new jobs, or professional achievements. It does not take much to send an email with a link to an article that you just published or something that you think might be of interest to your mentor. These simple moments turn into opportunities to check in with one another and further develop your relationship. Both parties involved must put in the work and remain committed to the process, but as the mentee seeking advice and help from a mentor, you should make sure to do your part.
- Mentors Can Come from Anywhere
It is not necessary for you wait until you receive an email from an organization with the subject line “Need a Mentor?” Surely, you can express interest in wanting to be paired with a mentor, and sometimes you receive one as a component of an internship experience, such as those participating in JIOP. Do not wait for someone to ask you if you want a mentor. Oftentimes the best mentoring relationships are solidified organically and independently from a formal pairing program. Mentors can come from social circles, from family introductions, or in traveling to conferences. The most important thing is that, whichever method you choose to seek a mentorship, you do so with an open mind.
- Diversify Your Mentoring Circle
It is very easy to identify mentors with characteristics that are like yours on your résumé. For instance, a common way to seek mentors is by searching the alumni database of your law school or undergraduate institution. Other times, people may look for membership in the same affinity groups, community organizations, or voluntary bar associations. While it is a great practice to develop relationships with like-minded individuals, do not box yourself into those same characteristics when seeking mentorship. For example, if you identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ), do not align yourself solely with mentors who identify as LGBTQ. Likewise, if you identify with a specific race or gender, do not limit your mentoring sources only to those who share your race or gender identity. In addition, many do not realize that a mentor may be older or younger than you. We all can learn something from someone who might have traveled a different path and got to a destination that is desirable to us in fewer years than we have had on earth. Why not learn from that person’s experience?
Also, be sure to diversify your mentorship by industry and practice area. There may be great mentorships available in spaces that are not directly in your focus area. Mentorship is a great tool for developing new business, navigating a new area of the law, or advancing in your current workplace. If you limit yourself to where you can find a mentor, you could also potentially limit the opportunities that can come your way. The key lesson in diversifying your mentorship circle is to identify people who are doing something that you want to do—no matter what they look like or with whom they identify—and emulate them.
- Once You Have Been Mentored, Pass It On
As the adage goes, “to whom much is given, much is required.” Most, if not all, seasoned legal professionals who invest in you and your career will do it for you because someone did it for them. At crucial points in their career, they had someone in their corner to pick up the phone to recommend them for a position or they had someone send a letter to a decision maker. They know firsthand the importance of having someone in your corner in this ever-competitive profession, and they, as mentors, should instill that responsibility in you. Even as a law student, take the time to mentor someone who is thinking about going to law school or preparing for his or her LSAT. As a new attorney, take the time to mentor someone who is trying to pass the bar while your bar prep study tips are still fresh in your mind. As a mid-level career professional, take the time to help shape the trajectory of a new attorney in your workplace who is where you were just a few years earlier. As a senior-level professional, take the time to coach a law school moot court or mock trial team or serve as a supervisor for an internship program. Mentorship is certainly a gift that keeps on giving time and time again. Do not let it stop with you.
Make the most of all that mentoring has to offer. By being a present mentee, you will receive invaluable insight into a wide array of opportunities and receive advice on how to navigate your path. By paying it forward as a mentor, you will have the opportunity to invest in someone’s life that can make all the difference in the success that person will achieve. Whatever role you play in the mentoring relationship, commit to it and it will add incomparable value to your life.
Janea Hawkins is an employment litigation attorney at Jackson Lewis, P.C., in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office. She is the 2019 ABA JIOP National Mentoring Cochair, a JIOP alumna, and a dedicated mentee and mentor.
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