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Take the “Me” Out of Mentorship

Dorlin Armijo

Take the “Me” Out of Mentorship
seb_ra via Getty Images

As you begin your practice, you will hear about the importance of mentorship. A mentor is touted as a resource, a network, and a platform for valuable wisdom and advice. The guidance to find those auspicious people, however, may be scarce. While not a one-size-fits-all approach, the few tips below may be helpful in finding a mentor and maintaining the mentoring relationship.

Join a mentorship program.

Many legal organizations offer mentorship programs that connect aspiring mentors and mentees. Your local bar association may have sections or divisions that reference mentorship programs, especially the sections for younger lawyers (e.g., young lawyer bar association). These programs facilitate mentor-mentee connection and help develop relationships by organizing amusing events.

Take initiative.

Generally, you must take a first step whether you join a formal mentorship program or reach out to a potential mentor on your own. While seasoned attorneys or mentors genuinely enjoy guiding and building a professional relationship with newer attorneys, often, they have busy schedules. It is easier for a mentor to agree to show up to an event that you’ve already planned, than it is for him or her to take the laboring oar of making the plans themselves. To facilitate a mentor’s life, send friendly reminders or calendar invitations for upcoming meetings. Ask your mentor for the time and place that fit best in their schedules.  And if your mentor prefers that you choose a time and a place, find a convenient time and select a venue that would not burden your mentor’s commute. The easier it is for a mentor to attend the event, the more likely he or she is to consistently show up.

Remain open minded.

As young lawyers or law students, you may be tempted to reach for the sky when choosing a mentor. Why not be mentored by a Supreme Court Justice or your city’s top litigator, right? When looking for mentors, don’t just focus on the individuals that inspire you the most—or those with the most accolades. The same caution goes against selecting individuals that best mirror your own background and professional aspirations. You may likely learn as much, if not more, from individuals who work in different areas of law, who do not share your background. A great mentorship forms when two individuals are invested in development and growth, and not based on how many potential job offers you may get from a mentoring relationship you’ve established.

Mentorships are not one-sided relationships.

What could a mentor possibly learn or gain from a young lawyer, you may ask. Mentors truly enjoy helping others. This enjoyment is lessened when a mentee does not keep the mentor up to date on developments, and only treats the relationship as a means to an end. Show your mentor gratitude, send a thank you note. When you learn of your mentor’s own accomplishments, take time to congratulate them and recognize their achievements. If you are lucky enough to form a longstanding mentoring relationship, thank your mentor by nominating him or her for a mentorship award. Although not expected, a mentor will be honored in obtaining such a nomination even if no award is received.

Return the favor.

Most mentors were once mentored. Each mentor commits to helping another young lawyer because they had also benefited from being mentored. Giving back ensures that mentoring relationships continue to sustain our profession. It may also help you obtain insight into professional concerns that are voiced by newer attorneys. This knowledge will not only make you a better mentor, but it will also help you become a better professional overall.