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Mentoring Relationships for Attorneys

Noel Peel

Written by

Noel Peel


February 20, 2018

You have likely already heard that establishing a relationship with a mentor is important for your professional development as an attorney. But how do you create that relationship?

Set Your Goals for the Mentor Relationship

You do not need to be a new lawyer to benefit from a mentor. If you are a business-minded attorney at any age, you should reflect on your goals and the areas in which you need to improve your knowledge.
You could benefit from a mentoring relationship if you are:

  • Beginning your career as a new attorney
  • Changing practice areas
  • Opening your own practice after being part of a larger firm
  • Considering adopting new technology
  • Seeking to broaden your referral network
  • Planning to increase your social media presence

A common phrase among attorneys is “don’t reinvent the wheel”. If you have a gap in your knowledge, there is another attorney out there who has struggled like you and has answers to your questions. After you have identified your goals for the mentoring relationship, the next step is to find your mentor.

Find a Mentor

A good mentor is a person who is willing to set aside time to foster a relationship with you, who balances good professional judgment with common sense, and above all else, is someone you can trust. There are many different avenues for finding a mentor:

State or Local Bar Association. Your state or city may have an established mentoring program which pairs attorneys seeking mentors with more experienced attorneys in the community. These programs can be particularly beneficial because the mentors may have undergone training, and have a demonstrated appetite for helping other attorneys. The American Bar Association maintains a list of mentoring programs by state:

Firm Resources. If you work in a law firm, you can ask another more experienced attorney to act as your mentor. Try to think of an attorney who helped you and provided valuable feedback to you in the past.
Law School. Your law school may maintain a list of alumni who are willing to act as mentors to other graduates. If no such list exists, you could ask whether the law school maintains an alumni directory. You can examine the directory to identify people you would like to contact.

Contact Leaders in Your Desired Practice Areas. If you read local or state legal publications, you can identify leading attorneys in your practice area. These leading attorneys may have mentoring experience, and may be willing to discuss their experiences with you.

Also explore other mentoring resources, such as articles and podcasts about mentoring. The American Bar Association offers recorded stories on mentorship in the legal profession.  Also keep in mind that the right mentor for you may not necessarily be someone who is much older than you. Linda A. Klein, the current president of the American Bar Association, said about mentoring that “[i]t’s not about age; it’s about experience.” Once you have identified someone to act as your mentor and they have agreed to mentor you, the next step is to connect with him or her and make the most out of your mentoring relationship. It may be hard to identify your mentor from a coffee meeting or lunch—if you feel a mentor is not quite right for you, do not hesitate to keep looking for a mentor.

Making the Connection with your Mentor

Below are a few tips for your meetings with your mentor:

    • Mentoring relationships can be both formal and informal—decide upon the style that works for you and your mentor, and make sure your and your mentor’s expectations are aligned.
  • Be an active listener. You are much more likely to understand your mentor’s advice when you engage in active listening, versus focusing on coming up with the next thing you are going to say while your mentor is speaking. Although you may want to impress your mentor, focus more on listening to the advice they have for you.
  • Be respectful of both your and your mentor’s time by always being on time for your meetings and being “present” during your meeting. Put your cell phone away.
  • Accept constructive criticism. A good mentor is not always going to be your cheerleader. If your mentor points out something you could have done better, listen to them and do not act defensive.
  • Ask for opportunities to see your mentor “in action”.

For example, if you want to learn how to be a better litigator, ask your mentor if you can sit in on a trial or contested hearing. This does not need to be a one-time thing–you and your mentor could develop a “training schedule”, where you observe many distinct phases of the litigation process. As another example, if you are seeking to adopt modern technology into your practice, you could ask your mentor to show you the software and other systems he or she has in place.

A successful mentoring relationship can be rewarding for both you and your mentor, and can make a major positive impact on your career. If you have any mentoring tips that you would like to share, please leave a comment on this blog post.

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