Experienced and thoughtful attorney mentors can provide the guidance you need to grow and succeed. Whether through a formal organizational mentoring program or informal networking relationships, you learn from more experienced attorneys how to practice law and market yourself. Connecting with one or more quality mentors can vastly improve your ability to succeed and build a practice. However, the opposite is also true.
Bad Advice Could Lead to Critical Mistakes
If you receive bad advice from mentors or rely on mentors who lack the knowledge or bandwidth to provide useful assistance, it can substantially hamper your ability to grow and flourish. Bad advice from a mentor, whether due to inexperience or lack of judgment, could lead you to make critical mistakes that negatively affect your reputation and standing in the field. A mentor’s lack of attention and availability, especially if assigned to you in a formal setting, can leave you feeling isolated and apprehensive. Most young lawyers question their abilities when beginning to practice, and poor mentoring advice or a lack of connection will often add to the stress and demands of this difficult transition.
You can avoid this by planning your mentoring strategy and taking control of your mentoring in the same way we would expect you to plan and execute a case strategy. A proactive and multifaceted approach will allow you to establish a support network, avoid mentoring pitfalls, and ultimately seek and receive the crucial direction you need at this critical juncture in your career.
Setting Expectations with Your Mentor
Strive to establish with your mentor clear expectations upfront. You should discuss how often mentoring will occur and for how long, and schedule regular meetings. Without regularly scheduled meetings, the relationship may not grow meaningfully. You and your mentor should plan for and discuss the scope of the meetings and how they will proceed. Setting a brief agenda will help set expectations on content and communication, leading to a positive and productive experience. Seek to understand the mentor’s level of expertise and evaluate any differences in power dynamics between you. Understanding your mentor will make you more likely to evaluate the advice received.
Consider Your Mentor’s Perspective
Mentors do not purposefully provide poor advice or instruction. A mentor might lead you astray because they lack the time or resources to consider potential issues raised fully before providing advice. Alternatively, a mentor may have a different experience and background than you, and their advice will not resonate or be useful. To counteract this, try to understand the mentor’s point of view, but also don’t follow guidance blindly, even if you hold your mentor in high regard.
Pursue Multiple Mentors
You should also establish relationships with at least several experienced attorney mentors. By obtaining advice from several sources on the same issue, you may triangulate, evaluate, and synthesize advice and guidance in a way that will more likely provide success than a single source. This also allows you to recognize any outlier messaging and evaluate the quality of advice and guidance received from each source.
Take Ownership of Mistakes
You should immediately try to remedy the situation if you sense that your mentor has led you astray. If you have followed advice to your detriment, reach out to correct the mistake while taking ownership of it and withholding any blame, or even attribution, to your mentor. Communicate frankly and honestly with your mentor about the problem. Through thorough and candid discussion, you may realize that you misinterpreted your mentor's advice.
Alternatively, it may turn out that you and your mentor disagree fundamentally on handling a given issue. If that’s the case, it may be time to discuss ending the mentoring relationship and parting ways. Although uncomfortable, this solution allows you to find a new mentor and focus your time and energy on a relationship with someone whose ideas and experiences more closely align with yours.