Law firm mentorship programs benefit everyone involved—the mentor, the mentee, the firm, and the profession. While it may seem like a lot of work, the outcomes of having a mentorship program outweigh any perceived downside.
Being assigned a mentor should be one of the first things that happens when you join a new firm, whether you are a summer associate, a new lawyer, or a lateral hire. Most firms want to establish a relationship between you and a firm veteran who can provide you with guidance, support, and advice. This relationship can continue for years after the initial assignment. Whether mentoring at your firm is formal or informal, it is a critical component for your and the firm’s success. You may come into your new position completely overwhelmed and lacking confidence, unsure about the law, what your role will be, and pretty much everything else. Your mentor will be a tool to help you navigate those feelings and integrate into the system. Mentors can help with even the most basic things, like office culture and partner introductions. If you are still working remotely, don’t drop the ball on connecting with your mentor. Schedule virtual meetups, chat on Slack or Teams, and arrange a time to meet up in person if you can. Connecting with your mentor helps you adapt and progress.
Depending on the firm, you may meet regularly with your mentor, or more informally. Either way, it is important to take advantage of these meetings. Many firms will provide money for coffee, lunches, and other mentor/mentee experiences. These meetings are a chance to set goals. Talk with your mentor about what goals you have, and see if they have any input on refining and achieving those goals. Meeting up is also a chance to get feedback. A good mentor will give constructive feedback, praise, and encouragement. Your mentor will also help you identify opportunities available for you at the firm. Meeting with your mentor isn’t just a chance to get a sandwich on the company dime—these meetings are your opportunity to gain experience and learn the inner workings of the firm. Many mentors will have an open door/video call policy, so don’t limit yourself to formal mentorship opportunities; check in with your mentor even if you don’t have anything formal scheduled.
You don’t have to limit yourself to your assigned mentor. Working in a practice group will naturally lead to relationships with partners and more senior attorneys. These are informal mentorships and take on a different tone than a formal mentor. They are people you work with daily, under stressful circumstances, and these informal mentors are a great way to learn the day-to-day things at your firm. You may also form a mentor relationship with others who are like you, especially if you are from an underrepresented group. Look at what affinity groups your firm has and find one or two that reflect who you are. This is a great place to find a mentor. That more organic relationship based on commonalities can have many positive benefits, and it widens your visibility throughout the firm.
A good mentor wears a lot of hats—teacher, role model, advisor, confidant, and agent. This is the perfect opportunity to sharpen your leadership skills and develop your own unique leadership style. Your firm is looking for you to exhibit leadership skills to get the associate on the road to productivity and inclusion. Mentorship will help you develop your communication style, hone your listening skills, and get better at giving constructive feedback. If something in your leadership style isn’t working, evaluate how to do it better. Read books, listen to podcasts, and seek your own feedback from those you admire. Being a mentor allows you to evaluate your own performance as a leader. If your mentee is successful, you are successful.
Lawyers often get stuck in a pattern of “Well that’s how we’ve always done it.” A new perspective from your mentee can change that way of thinking. Keep an open mind when discussing legal work that the mentee is doing, because it can lead to new and innovative solutions. It can also be beneficial to mentor someone who is different than you. Demonstrate a commitment to diversity by mentoring someone from a diverse group. A fresh perspective can blossom into something beneficial to both the mentor and mentee. Being a mentor can also help with your own mindset about your work. Mid-levels, seniors, and partners can get burned out, or feel disenchanted in the job. If you start to see the job through the eyes of your mentee, it can renew your enthusiasm for the job.
As someone in a mentorship position, you have worked hard to hone your skills and get where you are. This is your opportunity to impart your knowledge and to mold your mentee, which not only benefits the mentee, but you as well. You are, after all, creating the next senior associate or partner, and giving them a good base is priceless down the road. Share your successes and your mistakes. Sharing mistakes allows your mentee to know that mistakes will happen and that not everyone is perfect all the time. Being a mentor can also open your eyes to the challenges and barriers your mentee may face. Each lawyer has their own experiences, and you can assist them in overcoming those challenges and barriers, and can make suggestions to your firm to address the issues universally.
One of the reasons a firm wants to build a solid mentor/mentee relationship is for retention and promotion. Firms want home grown partners and counsel. If a mentee feels valued and invested in, they are more likely to stay with the firm. This is especially true for underrepresented groups. Diversity isn’t just a buzzword—law firms are striving to recruit and retain lawyers from those groups. People of color, women, first generation lawyers, those with disabilities, and LGBTQ+, among others, are sought-after candidates, and mentorship can be a solid way to build a firm’s diversity and to retain those future leaders.
Having a strong mentor/mentee program, whether formal or informal, develops a mentee faster. Providing a mentee with constructive feedback, career development opportunities, and a safe sounding board creates a professional that feels integrated and confident. A mentor can make a mentee ready to take on greater tasks or leadership roles on a team. When a mentor takes the time to introduce the mentee to clients and people in other firms, and has included them in meetings and court procedures, the mentee will be more confident in taking on those tasks alone. Laying a good foundation of how these interactions work breeds success for the mentee.
Demonstration of firm commitment to the development of its lawyers leads to good things. Productivity will increase, dedication to the firm will solidify, and associates will feel like the firm cares about their career. A successful mentorship program can improve engagement in other areas of the firm, like affinity groups and recruitment. Employees that feel valued and fulfilled create an overall better work environment. A strong mentorship program can also attract higher quality candidates when hiring season comes around.