Friday, February 22, 2008

Resolving the lack of mentors at law firms

by Zebroid (c) 2008

Associates at leading law firms often ask the ever so important question, “How do I find a mentor?!” A plea for advice.

"I am getting good experience but I get NO mentoring. I get given work I have no experience doing. With a little mentoring I would be able to do it better. No one reviews my work it goes directly to the client. I am very stressed"

Although there are several different approaches to solving this problem, I’ve collected a few ideas of ways to deal with the issue.

Answer 1
Find who at your firm is in charge of ‘Professional development’. Arrange a meeting, if they are in a different office, arrange a time to speak on the phone. If this does not work Go speak to the practice chair/leader.

Open with:

“I really want to grow and learn. I want to be as effective and productive as I can be”

Remember it is all about “them” what you can do for “them”, never about you and how frustrated you are.

Prepare some examples of where a mentor would have made you more effective and reduced the institutional risk.

Identify individuals that would be good mentors prior, as you maybe asked

Then sit back and “listen”.

Answer 2
I think that despite the popularity of the topic, real mentorships are just tough to come by. Select carefully, but identify an individual within your business that is accessible to you and who has demonstrated success in their career. Observe their personal style for a while and ask yourself if this is a style you would like to emulate. Finally, approach the individual and explain that you are seeking guidance from some kind of informal mentorship and are interested in exploring with them how you might take advantage of their experience and knowledge from time to time. Ask them if they have an experience with mentoring and how such a relationship might or might not work for them.

Answer 3
I’m not sure there is a universally acceptable solution to this. So many factors come into play.
1. Experienced lawyers become frustrated by spending time to teach new lawyers, where the probability of those new lawyers moving on to other jobs is high.
2. Few firms actually set their rewards systems to encourage any conduct not seen as a direct revenue generator.
3. Time and billing pressures on lawyers make any serious teaching effort seem counterproductive, particularly given point numbers 1 & 2.
4. The level of attention that a new lawyer might desire as “mentoring” can sometimes be seen by an experienced lawyer as a demand for needless hand-holding or coddling. The best route that I’ve found so far is to encourage experienced lawyers to pick out one newer person to work with and “mentor.” Letting the experienced lawyer select the person seems to reduce the effects of point 4. Having the new person directly assist the experienced lawyer on a consistent basis, seems to reduce point 3.

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