Avenues for Finding a Good Mentor in the Urban and Rural Job Market

Kelsey B. Moore
Living in a rural area provides more of an opportunity to develop connections with members of your community through your daily interactions.

Living in a rural area provides more of an opportunity to develop connections with members of your community through your daily interactions.

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Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.

—John Crosby

Whether you’re in your first few months of practicing or you’ve been hammering out billable hours for five years, there is one thing young lawyers can agree on—law school didn’t teach us how to be lawyers. So how does one navigate the stresses of the practice while achieving that perfect work-life balance? Practicing attorneys will offer you several pieces of advice, but the most valuable tool in my repertoire over my early years of practice has been a good mentor.

While mentors may be readily accessible to those who work in larger job markets, the task of finding a good mentor may seem daunting to young lawyers practicing in rural areas. Finding a good mentor in your early years of practice, whether in an urban or rural job market, is an essential tool for success. 

Importance of a Mentor

Regardless of your practice area and whether you work in the public or private sector, the beginning of your legal career will be filled with new challenges. You need someone who has experienced what you are going through to support you in your budding legal career and help you navigate the ups and downs.

I developed two mentors naturally during law school, and I have continued to maintain relationships with both of them over the past five years. As a civil litigator who has spent most of her practice in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia, I often felt isolated working in an area where there are more medical professionals and teachers than lawyers. It was during these times that I turned to my mentors for advice, solace, and comfort. Both are more seasoned litigators than I, and they have shared in my successes and always had an uncanny ability to make me feel better about situations that at the time seemed like the end of the world. Their unique perspectives and varying experience levels also have helped me realize that the practice of law is just that—a practice—and no attorney will ever be perfect, despite our type-A personalities.

How You Can Find a Mentor in Your Rural or Urban Area

There are several resources for young attorneys seeking a legal mentor.

Take advantage of in-place mentoring programs.

Even in smaller markets, many law firms and other organizations, like my firm, have formal mentor programs and will match you with a mentor to guide you through your career. Alternatively, don’t shy away from seeking out coworkers and colleagues for counsel and support.

Don’t limit your mentorship pool to the attorneys in your immediate community.

If you prefer to find a mentor outside the workplace, you should contact your law school’s career services group or your local or state bar association. They can refer you to mentorship programs and often keep lists of individuals of varying ages and experience levels ready to support young attorneys. Just be sure not to divulge any confidential client information when utilizing a mentor outside the workplace or a coworker who does not have shared clients.

Develop relationships with local attorneys through nontraditional avenues.

If you work in a more rural area, the mentorship pool may appear smaller because you work in a small office or have fewer networking opportunities available through local and state bar associations. However, living in a smaller city or town provides more of an opportunity to develop connections with members of your community and local bar through your daily interactions.

For example, when I was working in a smaller market a few years ago, I met several other female attorneys at a local book club. I did not expect legal connections to develop from an invitation to a book club, but many of the women involved were attorneys at small and large law firms in the area. We were able to discuss our personal experiences and seek advice from one another.

A mentor is an invaluable tool that every attorney can benefit from. Mentors provide endless support and may also encourage you to try new things that would ordinarily be out of your comfort zone. Whether you are in an urban or rural market, do yourself a favor and establish these relationships early. With their support, you will never have a day at work you feel as though you cannot handle.

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Kelsey B. Moore is an associate in the professional liability department at Steptoe & Johnson PLLC in Huntington, West Virginia.