Ever since Odysseus trusted his friend, Mentor, to be a tutor and wise advisor to his son, Telemachus, mentors have imparted their knowledge to those eager to learn. Like Telemachus, you can learn from mentors in your firm. Here are ways to advance in your career by getting useful feedback from them.
If your firm has a mentor program, take advantage of it. An office mentor can impart a lot of practical advice you need to know, such as office policies and procedures, information about judges and opposing counsel, rules of practice, pretrial and trial strategies that work, legal research tips in your jurisdiction, even office politics. If your firm does not have such a program, consider requesting that the firm initiate one.
Lawyers assigning you work can also be effective mentors. When you get an assignment, make sure you know three things: the substance of the task, the form (e.g., an internal memo, pleading, motion, or a brief), and the due date. After you submit written work, compare your draft with the final edited version by the lawyer who assigned it, so you can compare the two, learning from improvements. Arrange to meet with that lawyer to discuss ways to improve your legal research, analysis, and writing.
Here are various ways you can take advantage of having a mentor:
- Do a dry run of an oral argument on a motion, with your mentor as judge and then as devil’s advocate, for a critique.
- Ask your mentor to observe you in court, and then critique your presentation.
- Take a deposition with a mentor observing, even providing advice during the deposition, as appropriate. Your mentor can then critique your skill in obtaining information and admissions under oath, benefitting—if feasible—by review and analysis of the deposition transcript.
- Ask a mentor to play the role of opposing counsel in preparing for a negotiation, or the role of mediator in preparing for mediation.
- Explore with your mentor your best marketing niche, and ways to promote your practice.
When you are critiqued, your attitude should be appreciative and accepting rather than defensive—after all, a more experienced lawyer is investing time and effort in your professional future. We can all learn vicariously from the experience of lawyers who have come before us.
You can reciprocate for the next generation of lawyers by mentoring them, passing on to younger lawyers what you learned from being mentored yourself, and from your own experience. By “paying it forward” in this way, you can be a Mentor for the next Telemachus.
Stewart Edelstein, who taught clinical courses at Yale Law School for 20 years during his 40-year career as a trial lawyer, is the author, most recently, of How to Succeed as a Trial Lawyer, 2d ed. (ABA 2017).