Most people can think of one or two individuals who mentored them early on and who guided their careers through ups and downs. For attorneys, this could be a favorite law school professor, a partner in their firm, a judge for whom you clerked or a supervising attorney. These mentors typically stay in our lives throughout our careers even as we move on to different positions. They have been listed as references and sometimes get holiday cards. They knew you before you had kids. They knew you when you didn’t know what you didn’t know.
But the notion that a mentoring relationship has to be long-lasting or that mentoring itself requires an enormous investment of time is to look at the issue narrowly. All of us have been mentored in a number of ways as we have progressed in our legal careers. For me, I have cherished and maintained my relationships with several of my early mentors. Wanting to give back and pass it forward, I have always tried to participate in mentoring events, speak to groups of young lawyers and sign up for mentorship programs. But as I’ve now settled into a position of some seniority, I am beginning to see mentoring relationships in a more flexible light. Called on now to offer leadership and guidance when needed, I am drawing upon lessons I’ve learned from mentors old and new. While my natural tendency has been to focus on those mentors who are still a part of my life, it struck me that one of the most important lessons I learned as a young professional came from a lawyer for whom I worked briefly as a paralegal. He offered me a single mentoring moment that has stayed with me for a lifetime.