April 2017

Mentoring new lawyers yields rewarding experiences for both parties

Many law firms, bar associations and law schools have mentoring programs, but “the success of the mentor-mentee relationship depends highly on both parties committing time and energy to the partnership,” said Dan Cotter, partner at Butler, Rubin, Saltarelli & Boyd LLP in Chicago, in an article in the spring issue of TYL entitled, “The Positives of Mentoring.”

Done right, mentoring relationships can be rewarding for both parties. But it requires both sides to work hard to understand their roles and to contribute to the partnership in order to yield a successful relationship.

“Establishing a strong partnership takes time and effort from both individuals and, like any relationship, it requires nurturing and care for it to continue working,” Cotter said.

Many of the formal programs at law firms are not as successful as they could be because the mentor does not see the value in spending time away from billable hours to foster the relationship, he said.

Such a perspective is short-sighted, Cotter said. Lending your time as a mentor can be quite rewarding and offers benefits, including:

  • Staying fresh and keeping up with what younger lawyers are doing and thinking about;
  • Fulfilling experiences, including the mentee succeeding and achieving his or her goals; and
  • Generating referral opportunities from new and future contacts generated by the mentee.

Cotter said mentoring also naturally helps mentors further develop their leadership and networking skills and can provide lifelong friendships and business relationships when done well.

The mentor’s primary role is to identify and make available opportunities for mentees to excel. The mentor should not be the primary focus of the relationship. “A mentor should not be in the role to seek the spotlight or glory from the relationship but should be providing the mentee with meaningful guidance and a foundation on which to build his or her skills,” said Cotter.

At the same time, the mentee must recognize that a mentoring relationship is not an ongoing job interview, he said. While the relationship might lead to eventually working together, the mentee cannot seek a mentor for the sole purpose of securing employment.

He offered several common traits found in successful mentees. They are:

  • Active learners
  • Active listeners
  • Active self-promoters
  • Passionate and enthusiastic about goals and objectives
  • Appreciative of their mentor’s time and advice

Cotter provided practical guidance for becoming a successful mentee. “The mentee should have a clear plan outlined and drive the relationship, seeking the guidance and wisdom of the mentor.”

It’s important for mentees to ask their mentors for guidance on identifying resources and opportunities that might be helpful, particularly people that might support advancing their goals, he said.

“A good mentee takes the wisdom, encouragement and guidance of the mentor and translates it into a successful pursuit of his/her goals,” Cotter said.

Other tips include taking advantage of networking opportunities suggested by your mentor; making and keeping those connections; and extending a note or email of appreciation to each new contact made through a mentor. You never know what prospect will lead to a new and exciting career opportunity.

Cotter said the most successful mentees also find ways to become a mentor to their mentor. “If there is something you think would benefit your mentor, such as technological or social media expertise you possess, share it,” he advised.

In the long term, the benefits of mentoring should not be understated. Cotter said one of his mentees became his legal intern and then applied for a position at a company in the same industry. When his application stalled in the hiring process, Cotter placed a call to a friend who was the company’s CFO and his mentee was hired. He said this is how friendships and business relationships can benefit from a mentoring relationship. 

TYL is a publication of the ABA Young Lawyers Division

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