The Lawyer's Journey from Mentee to Mentor

Tonya Krause-Phelan and Matthew Marin
The mentor-mentee relationship is an important part of professional success, whether you give or receive mentorship.

The mentor-mentee relationship is an important part of professional success, whether you give or receive mentorship.

Grafissimo via iStock

The mentor-mentee relationship is an important part of professional success, whether you give or receive mentorship. As a new lawyer, mentors are a lifeline. In medium to large firms, most new lawyers are assigned to a mentor. For solo practitioners and those in small firms, local and state bar organizations have mentorship programs that can assist in pairing the new lawyer with a mentor.

How to Be a Great Mentee

  • Once you have a mentor, you should ask questions—lots of them. Mentors can provide valuable professional opportunities, such as introducing their mentees to local lawyers with similar practices, local judges, and other community leaders.
  • You should also ask mentors for advice on avoiding the common pitfalls young lawyers often make. Mentors can also discuss avoiding common ethical dilemmas and dealing with demanding clients, opposing counsel, or judges.
  • Have a frank conversation with your mentor about managing stress and wellness concerns. Be honest with your mentor if you are struggling with these issues. Your mentor can be a valuable source of information and can steer you to helpful resources. 
  • Invite your mentor to your upcoming trials, hearings, or court dates. Seek their advice in preparing for the event; if your mentor attends and sees you in action, they can give you meaningful feedback on your performance.

Transitioning from Mentee to Mentor

A day will come when you notice that you have segued into a position where new lawyers ask for your advice. At this juncture, you must begin passing along the insight and wisdom that was shared with you. Following are a few ways to make the transition effectively during this phase of your career.

Mentoring Your Mentor

As the mentee-mentor relationship develops, you will likely notice that you are starting to share tips and information with your mentor. Chances are you are knowledgeable, if not skilled, in integrating technological efficiencies, digital discovery, and new ways to use social networking to improve your practice. If your mentor still needs to become proficient in these areas, share your knowledge; it will help your mentor to acquire new skills and update their practice.

Mentoring Those Newer Than You

During your time in young lawyer organizations, you will gain skills and knowledge that move you closer to becoming a mentor. Most organizations for new lawyers cap membership to those who have practiced for five years or less. Each year, new lawyers will join the young lawyer’s section, giving you the opportunity to guide them as they enter the profession and navigate the beginning stages of their careers.

Through participation in the young lawyer’s group, you can assume leadership roles, create seminars and other learning opportunities for new lawyers, and host mixers so new lawyers can meet members of the local bar. You might be surprised how quickly you can answer questions and teach lawyers newer than you valuable lessons you have already learned.

Mentoring Through Service

As you travel through those first few years of practice, take advantage of opportunities to share your knowledge and skills with community organizations. Many organizations seek lawyers to provide informative talks, community outreach, or serve in an informal capacity. Take advantage of these teaching opportunities within the community; these opportunities will help you hone your mentoring skills.

Even as a seasoned lawyer, you will benefit from maintaining mentor-mentee relationships. You will likely continue the relationship you developed with your mentor, but you are now at a stage in your career where you can confidently assume the role of mentor for newer lawyers. Serving as a mentor is a time-honored tradition in the legal profession—pay it forward!

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Tonya Krause-Phelan

WMU-Cooley Law School

Tonya Krause-Phelan is the associate dean of academics and professor of law at WMU-Cooley Law School.

Matthew Marin

WMU-Cooley Law School

Matthew Marin is an associate professor of law and the director of academic and student services at WMU-Cooley Law School.