Seeking a Mentor at the Beginning of the World

Edward M. O’Brien
There is no point at which you can reasonably say that you have been mentored “enough.”

There is no point at which you can reasonably say that you have been mentored “enough.”

lechatnoir via iStock

For a new lawyer, mentoring is vital. Straight out of law school, whether you are in your twenties and embarking on your first career or in your fifties embarking on your second, third, or fourth career, the legal profession is a unique beast: almost always exciting and rewarding with a healthy amount of challenge and difficulty. Finding an experienced attorney or group of attorneys who have been there and done that to help guide you through the treacherous path is, more often than not, the stepping stone to a successful career.

In seeking a mentor, keep some of the following things in mind.

Mentors Come in Different Shapes and Sizes

Don’t have a preconceived notion of what a good or helpful mentor will be. A good mentor doesn’t have to have practiced for 30 years, and a bad mentor won’t necessarily be the second-year lawyer with little experience. There is no such thing as the “perfect” mentor; there is only the right mentor for you.

Don’t Limit Yourself

Mentoring does not have to be monogamous. Connecting with as many possible mentors as you can is always a good thing. And over time, maintaining strong relationships with mentors who click with you and who have committed themselves to your professional development will continue to pay dividends.

Say Yes Whenever You Can

If an attorney invites you to attend a deposition or hearing, jump at the chance, even if it means staying up later that night to catch up on the work you missed. If you have a chance to go to a local bar meeting or participate in a practice area-specific group or association, do it.

Keep an Open Mind

Part of being a good mentor is dishing out advice on improvement and growth, and part of being a good mentee is a willingness to hear and accept that advice without hurt feelings. Mentoring is about self-improvement and growth. A good mentor should inspire you to act toward those ends.

Don’t Have Set Expectations

You never know where a mentor-mentee relationship will go. Don’t seek someone out only because you think they can help get you a job or connect you with someone who can. Of course, those things are important, but you will find the mentor-mentee relationship develops so much more naturally if you go into it with no set expectations or agendas.

Take Advantage of Resources

There is simply no excuse for not getting involved because there is no shortage of opportunities to do so. Join your local and state bar association, meet with more experienced attorneys regularly, and take advantage of lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring programs.

Look Backward and Forward

Reach out to new connections who might make good mentors, but don’t forget about those who helped guide you through law school. They can be an invaluable resource as you move into the professional world.

Be a Mentor Yourself

New lawyers are often best suited to be mentors to young lawyers and law students. They have gained some practical experience in the professional world, but are not so far removed from law school or the first year or two of practice that they have forgotten what it’s like.

Never Stop Learning and Growing

There is no point at which you can reasonably say that you have been mentored “enough.” Having someone to confide in, look up to, and rely on as a guide is important whether you’ve been practice three years or thirty years.

The legal profession is one that both embraces and requires lifelong learning. From the day you are sworn in, to the day you retire, it is important to keep perspective and grow wherever, whenever, and however you can. Finding a mentor is among the first steps in that ongoing process, and fortunately for the new lawyer, mentors aren’t hard to find. They are all around us.

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Edward M. O’Brien

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Edward M. O’Brien is an attorney in Wilson Elser’s Louisville office and managing editor of the Kentucky Appellate Survey.