As a young attorney, I understand the value of having a great mentor, especially early on in a budding legal career. A mentor can provide you with guidance, connections, and opportunities that can be beneficial to a young attorney new to the legal world. It’s easy to understand the benefits of having a great mentor, but it’s not as easy to find a great mentor. Although there are formal mentorship programs offered through bar associations and law firms, it seems like only a lucky few find a great mentor through these programs. This doesn’t mean that formal mentorship programs have no value. Formal mentorship programs are a great way to meet experienced attorneys, but a structured program will not guarantee the success of a mentor-mentee relationship. Finding a mentor is only a small hurdle compared to the work that is required to develop a great mentor-mentee relationship. Here are some tips that I learned and other attorneys have shared with me when I was searching for a mentor.
Find Your Ideal Mentor
Not all mentors are alike, so it’s important that you seek out mentors who are the right fit for you. The best tip I’ve received is to figure out what type of attorney you want to be and find an attorney who has the legal career you aspire to have. While a mentor might not be able to provide you the road map to success, an attorney who has the career or lifestyle you hope for will be able to provide you with great insight and guidance on how to reach your goal.
Mentors don’t necessarily need to be older or more experienced attorneys. When I moved to a new town, I contacted a young attorney in my area who was involved in the local and state bar associations. We met for lunch, and I mentioned that I was looking to become more involved with a legal organization in the community. I found my fellow young attorney to be supportive and full of helpful advice. Mentors can come in all different forms.
Once you know what type of mentor you are looking for, there a couple of ways to find and meet a mentor. If you are interested in finding a mentor with a specific practice area, then start by attending bar association events or CLEs geared toward this practice area. You may find potential mentors at these events or someone who could potentially introduce you to a mentor.
Finding a mentor can be difficult, especially if you are a new attorney and do not know many attorneys or if you’re new to an area. Here are some additional tips for finding a mentor:
- Join a bar association committee or board.
- Contact your bar association leaders.
- Contact your law school’s alumni group.
- Reach out to your law school professors.
The more attorneys you meet, the greater the chance of meeting a great mentor. Connecting with attorneys face-to-face is the best way to meet a potential mentor. And if there’s a particular attorney you would like to meet, don’t be afraid to send an email and ask to meet over coffee.
Create Your Advisory Board
While you are looking for a mentor, keep in mind that you are not limited to one mentor. I encourage you to seek out multiple mentors who can help you in your career. Building a network of mentors allows you to learn from a variety of attorneys with different areas of expertise. If possible, I recommend finding at least three types of mentors. The first mentor should be an attorney in your practice area. Ideally, this type of mentor will be an attorney within your own firm. If you’re a solo or if attorneys within your firm are not an option, then joining a Listserv for your practice area may be another option to find an attorney to serve as a practice-area mentor. The second mentor is the inspirational mentor who supports you and challenges you to go for the opportunities that you are hesitant to pursue. We all could use a mentor who pushes us to be better versions of ourselves. Finally, you want a mentor who can be brutally honest with you and tell it to you straight.
Develop the Mentor-Mentee Relationship
After you find a mentor, you need to work to maintain the mentor-mentee relationship, as you would with any type of relationship. Unfortunately, there is no mentor manual, and law school doesn’t teach attorneys how to be great mentors. Not all mentors are natural-born mentors, but this does not mean they cannot be a great mentor with some guidance from you. Mentees can play a vital role in the success of a mentor-mentee relationship by expressing specific goals they hope to achieve or clear objectives when meeting with a mentor. When your mentor gets to know you and what you hope to accomplish, it will be easier for him or her to provide the type of mentorship you are looking for.
As a mentee, you also should take the initiative to keep in touch with your mentor. Consistency is key. I often email my mentors if I see an interesting article or an event that they might be interested in attending. Think of ways you can genuinely provide value to your mentor. Mentorship is not just about receiving but also about getting to know your mentor and finding ways to give back.
Benefits of Being a Mentor
While it’s easy to understand how a mentee benefits from a mentorship, the benefits of mentorship for a mentor may not be as apparent. Mentoring should be a mutually beneficial relationship. As a mentee, it’s important for you to give, even if it’s not as much as you receive from your mentor. You could offer your time, enthusiasm, or skills from your previous life before law.
I knew a young, unemployed attorney who offered to help his mentor with any overflow tasks while he was looking for employment. His mentor was a solo attorney who wasn’t looking to hire a full-time associate, so this arrangement allowed the mentor to get help with his work and the mentee to gain valuable experience. We all have something to offer, so figure out what you can bring to the table. Mentorship can be a fluid relationship that allows all parties involved to learn, share, and grow from the experience.
Everyone’s Path Is Different
The key to finding and maintaining a successful mentorship is doing what works best for you. I have met my mentors through my involvement with various bar associations. However, if attending a bar association function and striking up a conversation with a stranger is outside your comfort zone, then think of other opportunities to meet new attorneys. There is no right or wrong way to meet a mentor.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of GPSolo magazine, volume 35, number 4, published by the American Bar Association Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. Membership in the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division is now complimentary. Join now.