Rising to Super Associate Stardom by Maximizing Mentoring Relationships
Blending in as a reliable associate requires a work ethic that is not surprising: Turn in your work on time, proofread, be kind and respectful to all, and work hard. Standing out as a superstar associate who is indispensable requires something beyond timely assignments and being reliable. Superstar associates demonstrate intangible skills such as the ability to generate business, managerial and leadership skills, and anticipation of issues before they arise.
Perhaps the most valuable way to develop the skills of an associate with both reliable, solid work product and the intangible skills needed to truly stand out as a superstar is through the development of mentorship relationships. Your workplace may provide a formal mentorship arrangement. If so, take advantage of that arrangement. Even if you are provided with a formal mentor, you should also seek out informal mentors both inside and outside your office, through the American Bar Association Section of Litigation committee structure, local bar associations, or your law school alumni network. Having multiple mentors is important, as each likely has their own personal strengths and perspectives, helpful to you in multiple ways.
To ensure you make the most of the relationship, keep the following in mind:
- Respect your mentors’ time. Arrange meetings in advance, and do not cancel at the last minute. Take the initiative to schedule coffee, lunch, or a telephone conference, and if possible, indicate topics you’d like to discuss. For example, you can email or call your mentor and ask when would be a good time to get together (offering a few options), indicating that you’d like to discuss better billing practices or how to best go about tackling a tough assignment. Be sure to ask for regular meetings, but do not overwhelm the mentor. When you respect your mentors’ time, they will respect you and be more willing to chat with you on various issues. Be sure to thank the mentor after the meeting; a handwritten thank-you note is a simple gesture that goes a long way toward making you stand out.
- Ask for and be open to receiving honest feedback. To truly become a superstar associate, you should not be satisfied to hear that your work is fine or even good. You want to know what you can do to make it better next time. Should you have cited more or different sources for your conclusions? Does the assigning prefer to have all case law printed, shepardized, and turned in with your work? Is there anything that could have been improved upon?
- Make the relationship reciprocal. Do not meet with your mentor and talk only about yourself. Ask open-ended questions about the mentor, such as what the mentor is working on or what have been some of the more interesting cases or clients the mentor has had in his or her career. You are working on developing a mentoring “relationship,” not merely someone who you can ask a list of questions to and receive answers. Developing a relationship will be mutually beneficial to both mentor and mentee, resulting in more meaningful time together.
- Be prepared. Come to the meeting with relevant documents that you want to ask about and questions readied. Show interest in the business side of the firm.
- Request opportunities. Ask the mentor if you are able to go with them or if they can help you pair up with another attorney to see attorneys in action outside of the firm, whether that be in a deposition, a hearing, or a mediation. Do not interrupt the process, but after, be gracious about the opportunity provided, and ask a few questions that demonstrate that you were paying attention and want to learn from the experience.
Developing strong mentoring relationships can help elevate you to superstar status if you’re willing to make the investment and learn from the process. If you’re lucky, those relationships will last the duration of your career.