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The importance of mentoring

I met Thursday with representatives from the career development and alumni relations departments of my law school about implementation of a new, group mentoring project.

Our goal is to provide a unique mentoring program that connects law students, recent law school graduates and established legal practitioners to add to the complement of mentoring programs that are already generally available for law students through the law school and for lawyers through the Maryland State Bar Association and other organizations.

While most of these mentoring programs center on traditional one-on-one mentor-mentee relationships, some are quite unique.

It goes without saying that mentoring is important. Whether a mentoring relationship is formal or informal, research has consistently shown that people are more likely to succeed— in school or in work — when they have had a mentor.

Those with more mentors report even higher levels of success (although you can reach a point of diminishing returns when you cannot maintain effective relationships with all of your mentors).

While you can never have too many people in your stable of advisers, studies recommend that, at least in terms of your career development, you have five mentors. Having five mentors will give you a broad range of opinions, perspectives, and areas of expertise, but is still a small enough number that you can maintain close, lasting relationships with each individual mentor.

My firm has an official mentor program, so I get two mentors by default — one partner and one associate. These mentors have been instrumental in helping me better understand how my firm works (both internally and externally) and how to put in place and implement a career development plan that works for me.

But mentoring relationships also often develop organically. I have developed unofficial mentor-mentee relationships with other attorneys in my firm in addition to the official mentor program. I have also maintained mentoring relationships with people that I worked with prior to joining my current firm, including the judge I clerked for.

But at some point, you will have to affirmatively look for your own mentor(s), particularly because you need a group of mentors that is not limited exclusively other attorneys in your own office, and the mentors you need may change as your career progresses. And finding your own mentor can be a challenge. The demands of the legal profession can make it difficult for mentors and mentees to devote the necessary amount of time to develop an effective mentoring relationship. And it can be hard just to ask.

Sometimes the mentors you already have can help you find more mentors. Sometimes you can find mentors through the school you graduated from or organizations that you work with. And sometimes you can even find a mentor for yourself by participating in a mentoring program with the original purpose of mentoring others.

Just keep your eyes open for opportunities to develop relationships, some of which may become mentoring relationships and others that may not. After all, as one veteran lawyer put it: “There are many ways to do it. The key is just to try some of them.”

One comment

  1. Evelyn Lombardo

    The Court of Appeals launched a pilot mentoring program for newly admitted Maryland attorneys in January of this year. The mentoring program, which is administered by the Court through the Executive Director of the Commission on Professionalism, pairs newly admitted Maryland lawyers with more seasoned attorneys on the basis of geography and practice area. In January, the first class of mentees (who were admitted in December) embarked on a year-long program with their mentors, and this week, about sixty new lawyers(who were admitted last month) will meet their mentors and get started with the program.